Kiwi isles could be snapped up

By Anne Gibson

An international island broker is marketing 20 island and waterfront peninsula properties around New Zealand to foreign buyers.

And his chances of making a sale are looking up, with the Government promising to make it easier to sell to overseas investors.

Farhad Vladi told the Weekend Herald he had been cautioning rich overseas buyers against investing here unless our laws changed.

Mr Vladi, in Auckland from Hamburg last week to speak to clients of law firm Hesketh Henry, said rules in New Zealand had the effect of actively discouraging foreigners from buying our islands.

"There's a resistance. We have learned that for so-called sensitive land, foreigners are not welcome," he said.

Islands are classified as sensitive and buyers need Overseas Investment Office permission to buy, although most applications are approved.

Mr Vladi tells buyers that New Zealanders prefer foreigners to invest in commercial properties.

However the rules could soon be changing after the Government announced this month it would overhaul the rules and reform the Overseas Investment Act 2005.

Finance Minister Bill English said the legislation was cumbersome and the rules were often difficult to interpret. The law on selling islands to aliens could be in for a big shakeup.

"Current rules are complex and processing a sensitive land application involves the assessment of 27 criteria and factors. The process is too long and too uncertain," Mr English said. He wants sensitive land re-defined "to ensure that only land of particular significance or importance to New Zealand is screened."

He also wants the act changed to better reflect the importance of foreign investment to our economic growth.

One of the most expensive properties on the Vladi Private Islands website is a 9 million ($21 million) coastal horse ranch one hour south of Auckland on the Firth of Thames at Orere Point. The 86ha clifftop property has 2km of coastline, its own private tarsealed roads, rolling farmland, stables and various houses.

For $18 million, foreigners could get a 134ha rural "island-like property" on a Bay of Islands peninsula opposite Opua with half a kilometre of coastline.

Mr Vladi is marketing the 37ha Motukawaiti Island in the Cavalli Islands with "price on request". Pakatoa Island near Auckland has been for sale for years, with owner John Ramsey of Crusader Meats understood to be asking for about $35 million.

For $5 million, foreigners could apply to buy the 61ha Puangiangi Island east of d'Urville Island in the Marlborough Sounds. All attempts to sell part of Roberton Island in the Bay of Islands have failed lately. A 2.6ha tip of that is on the Vladi website for US$4.5 million ($7.7 million).

Murray Horton, secretary and organiser of the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa, is incensed at Mr Vladi's attempts to sell the properties and said it was precisely brokers like him who wanted the Government to overhaul the law.

"Allowing islands to be flogged off to become someone's personal plaything is especially egregious because they are such an iconic part of the national landscape. Where do we stop? Shall we allow Great Barrier or Waiheke to be sold? How about Rangitoto? Perhaps Stewart Island?" he said.

Speculation about sensitive land changes touches a raw nerve with people like Mr Horton after the debacle over Gisborne's Young Nick's Head which was occupied by Ngai Tamanuhiri to protest at an attempted sale to foreign owners. Canadian rock star Shania Twain's purchase of the lease to 24,700ha of rugged and scenic farmland near Wanaka for $21.4 million also sparked an outcry resulting in her opening public access to 29km of tramping tracks and huts.

Mr Horton is worried. "New Zealand already has one of the most liberal foreign investment laws in the world. If the door is left permanently unlocked with a sign saying 'come on in and help yourselves', this proposed law change will simply remove the door - and probably sell that as well," he said.

- NZ Herald

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