Anne Gibson

Property editor of the NZ Herald

Property push: Iwi's big plan for lasting wealth

Ngati Whatua's commercial arm has assets of more than $300 million. With an eye on the future, it is exploring opportunities for land development and making Auckland a 'more vibrant, diverse city'.

Rob Hutchison wants Ngati Whatua's commercial arm to contribute to making Auckland a more vibrant city. Photo / Greg Bowker
Rob Hutchison wants Ngati Whatua's commercial arm to contribute to making Auckland a more vibrant city. Photo / Greg Bowker

Ngati Whatua o Orakei is preparing for a big Auckland real estate development push, after its treaty settlement and commercial restructuring.

Across Auckland, the iwi is eyeing opportunities for hundreds of hectares to enhance returns to whanau, from the North Shore's Bayswater/Belmont area across to the ex-Tamaki Girls College site in Glen Innes.

The commercial arm, Whai Rawa, headed by chief executive Rob Hutchison, was formed last year when a high-power board was appointed, chaired by leading Auckland financial expert Michael Stiassny.

The iwi sees its role as creating long-term wealth. "Ngati Whatua o Orakei have an inter-generational obligation to future generations to provide an asset base which provides long-term sustainable returns and benefits to its beneficiaries," the hapu says in a briefing paper provided to the Herald.

"The leasehold model is a reflection of that with its 150-year terminating leases providing the asset and land back on termination. Ngati Whatua o Orakei are a long-term landholder with ownership a key component of its strategy."

Precisely what is planned for many sites is not known, although last week Mr Hutchison was specific about the 4.2ha waterfront Wakakura ex-navy site at Devonport, announcing a mixed affordable/retirement scheme.

"The whole of the Bayswater/Devonport area needs to have much more diversity in housing to provide for all groups," he said.

"I'm from Devonport and if you're a young person in Devonport, there are limited opportunities to buy property.

"If you're an elderly person, there's no opportunities in Devonport."

Other iwi are looking on at Ngati Whatua's Auckland plans with interest.

Mike Pohio, Tainui Group chief executive, sees Ngati Whatua as being at the start of a big growth phase, taking advantage of its real estate opportunities. The potential is so much greater than Tainui's he says, because Ngati Whatua's properties are in a city of 1.5 million.

Phil Twyford, Labour housing spokesman, is supportive of the iwi's plans, saying Ngati Whatua has affordable housing aspirations and already holds a large portfolio which will allow it to fulfil those ambitions.

Not everyone is enjoying the ride. Last year owners of 164 apartments in Scene Three were rallying against a prospective 470 per cent rent rise for the leasehold land - a fight which has now been settled.

Paul Bray, manager of Video Ezy at 8 Quay St on the iwi's land, decried a new $70,000 payment after ground rent payment demands kicked in, saying owners would go bust or walk away from the demands.

All building owners on the 20ha Quay Park land had enjoyed a 15-year ground rent holiday and many who own apartments, shops and offices were upset about the new fees because they were suddenly being asked to pay for something previously free.

Mr Hutchison defends Whai Rawa's position, saying many properties are sub-leased so payments are not just to the iwi but also to a landlord.

In a drawn-out battle, owners of Quay Park buildings leased to corporates BNZ and GE also fought the iwi over the ground rent charges, eventually going to arbitration before retired High Court judge Robert Fisher, QC, who came down on the iwi's side.

"To date, Ngati Whatua have completed two early settlements, eight reviews by arbitration award including two awards for costs and settled seven by negotiation with willing parties. All settlements have been subject to independent advice.

"Ngati Whatua has nine sites scheduled for arbitration due to differing opinions of freehold land value, even though nearly 60 per cent of the overall portfolio has now settled. The remaining three leases are either under negotiation or are in a holding pattern awaiting the release of arbitration awards due soon. Ngati Whatua has an open-door policy in terms of engaging with lessees," he said.

Experienced hand at helm of Ngati Whatua's $300-million commercial arm

Rob Hutchison uses a Maori proverb to explain the balance between today's work and tomorrow's vision: "Whaia te pae tawhiti kia tata, whaia te pae tata kia mau, which means to live with one eye on the work immediately before us, and the other on the distant future".

This whakatauki (saying) represents the aspirations of the hapu, he says, telling how he is overseeing a substantial submission on the draft unitary plan due at the end of this month, reviews of Quay Park ground rents, and many Auckland property development opportunities.

The man who measures his words carefully is in charge of Ngati Whatua o Orakei Maori Trust Board's commercial arm, Whai Rawa, with assets of $300 million plus. He warns this year's financial statements will look very different to last year's, because the board has formed two separate divisions: the commercial Whai Rawa and the distribution Whai Maia.

"Whai Rawa, we think, has more to contribute than just the core property expertise. We want to see a much more vibrant, diverse city and we think we can make a contribution to that so we're looking to continue and increase our connections with various parts of the [Auckland] Council and other major stakeholders as well."

He was appointed Whai Rawa chief executive last year after the retirement of long-serving chief Tiwana Tibble.

Mr Hutchison, a Pakeha, is arguably one of the country's most experienced, competent real estate executives, having held a number of top positions across a broad range of businesses. He is a former Valuer-General, former chief executive of North Shore City Council and of Viaduct Harbour Holdings.

He has also held roles at Jones Lang Wootton, Colliers Jardine, been chief executive of Landcorp Property in Auckland and chief executive of Valuation New Zealand.

Originally from Devonport, his property career has been extensive. In 2005, he worked on North Shore developer Rick Martin's $3.5 billion plans for Albany, a scheme which was never built. In 2006, he ran his own consultancy, Waitea Property Advisory, before taking on the Ngati Whatua role.

- NZ Herald

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