Anne Gibson

Property editor of the NZ Herald

Billionaire's construction helps '82 NZ families'

Work continues apace on Russian steel magnate Alexander Abramov's mansion at Helena Bay south of the Bay of Islands. Photo / Greg Bowker
Work continues apace on Russian steel magnate Alexander Abramov's mansion at Helena Bay south of the Bay of Islands. Photo / Greg Bowker

The business developing Russian billionaire Alexander Abramov's new Northland estate is employing 100 people and has planted 150,000 native trees on the property.

Chris Seel, managing director of Northland Coastal Developments and the director of Helena Bay Holdings, is working for Mr Abramov to create the residence, estimated to be worth $40 million-plus on completion.

He defended foreign investment saying the $15.9 million purchase of a 214ha farm was hugely beneficial to the region and New Zealand.

"Eighty-two families are being fed for three years through New Zealand's biggest recession and there will be lots of people working there once it's finished. The project has 82 fulltime employees and 12 to 20 specialist contractors brought in from outside the local area because skills were not available in that region," Mr Seel said, adding that a $250,000 environmental commitment was made at the time of purchase but about $1 million has been spent so far.

Work conducted includes:

* Hill areas fenced to stop cattle trampling saplings and reaching the coastline.
* Thousands of possums culled.
* A hydro seeding unit established.
* Invasive tobacco weed/woolly nightshade infestations reduced.
* Archaeological sights mapped with a plan to remediate a significant Maori pa site.

Mr Seel said the ultimate goal was attracting kiwi back to the property.

Mr Seel described a close working relationship with Ngatiwai so that some days before jobs are advertised, the iwi is advised and job applications from tangata whenua are considered first.

Existing and regenerated native bush is being protected by a QEII Covenant.

Foreign investment is strongly opposed by many in New Zealand, particularly coastal land and specifically farmland. The Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa opposes deals such as Mr Abramov's, arguing it is not in the country's interests to sell businesses or land.

The Department of Conservation also opposed the resource consent application to build a concrete path across coastal rocks and a pontoon, saying it was unnecessary.

Historic Places Trust objected but Mr Seel said that was "to ensure we had completed a cultural impact report. As soon as they were informed we had, they withdrew their objection."

Mr Seel said a new walkway design was carefully considered.

"The pontoon accessway was designed and built by sculptors to mimic perfectly the natural rock formations and to sustain sea life to the same extent as natural rock which is already evident. This structure is indistinguishable from a natural formation - with the exception of the floating pontoon - from the water."

- NZ Herald

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