Craig alleges secrecy over Chinese deal

By Doug Laing

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LOCAL POLICY: Conservative leader Colin Craig says a large HB farm may be sold to Chinese interests.
LOCAL POLICY: Conservative leader Colin Craig says a large HB farm may be sold to Chinese interests.

Napier-Taupo road sheep and cattle operation Lochinver Station may be sold to Chinese interests, Conservative Party leader Colin Craig has told an election campaign meeting in Hastings.

The revelations came yesterday and were confirmed soon afterwards to the New Zealand Herald by Shanghai Pengxin, which through subsidiary Pure 100 Farm Limited had signed a sale and purchase agreement for the 13,800 hectare station, valued at over $70 million and situated 92km northwest of Napier.

The Overseas Investment Office confirmed an application received to approve the sale is pending but would comment no further.

Pengxin controversially purchased the 8000ha of the 16 Crafar Farms in 2012 for $200 million, the largest-ever foreign acquisition of New Zealand land by value. Penxgin also owned a 74 per cent stake in 13 farms in the South Island. Its buy-up of land has prompted a strong response from Opposition MPs, who say New Zealand should not be selling off its productive land to overseas interests. Mr Craig accused the OIO of trying to keep the deal secret until the election, but his party would block all substantial land sales to foreign buyers, a policy already proposed by New Zealand First, Labour and the Greens.

"We believe voters should be aware of what's going on behind closed doors," he said. "This is clearly an election issue."

Mr Craig said his party will oppose all sales overseas of large, productive land blocks and change the Overseas Investment Office criteria "so that our country is not sold up".

"The National Party waved through the Crafar Farms deal against our national interests and doubtless will do the same with Lochinver station," he said.

"We are standing up for Kiwis who want this country to remain New Zealand-owned."

The sheep and beef farm, a landmark on the Napier-Taupo road and with a capital valuation of $70.6 million, was put up for tender early this year by Stevenson Group, a family concern which has owned it for more than half a century. Living less than 50km away at Te Pohue is immediate-past Federated Farmers national president Bruce Wills who said the sales overseas of such land is a "divisive issue," and policy during his three-year term at the head of the organisation was not to be for or against.

"There are a lot of issues, over such things as rights to sell, people who say they should be able to sell to whoever they want," he said.

"It is a fantastic property, iconic," he said. "I've been past it many times, it's well respected, it looks tidy. I look longingly at all that flat land.

"But at the end of the day, there wouldn't be a lot of Kiwis who could muster the wherewithal to purchase the property," he said. "And our economy has always relied on overseas investment."

One retired farmer at the meeting told Hawke's Bay Today of his opposition to sale of such land and state-owned assets, and said: "I always vote National. This time I think I'll give my vote to this guy."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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