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NZ - Gisborne land high on foreign shopping list

Sean Wang - Wednesday, July 18, 2012

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Gisborne is a destination of choice for foreign investment in New Zealand, with the highest percentage of total land area granted consent for sale through the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) over the past seven years.

Overall 2.99 per cent of Gisborne's total land area, or 28,100 hectares, has been granted consent for sale to overseas buyers since 2005.

The largest portion was for the acquisition of 26,200 hectares of rural land, 3.09 per cent of rural land - the largest by land area in the country.

Gisborne also had the second-highest percentage of industrial land given consent for sale at almost 20 per cent, or 503ha.

Recent figures from Terralink paint a revealing picture of foreign ownership on the East Coast as a popular investment choice.

Close behind Gisborne was Canterbury at 2.8 per cent, or 86,200 hectares.

Terralink managing director Mike Donald said consents granted through the OIO did not always result in a sale, and the land could have been on-sold in the period the figures cover.

It is not a cheap process for overseas buyers to go through the consent process and can take months. Those who took the time to do the due diligence usually proceeded to purchase, he said.

The OIO assesses applications from overseas people who intend to invest in New Zealand assets.

Foreign investors have to prove they will benefit the NZ economy and eco systems above and beyond what it would under NZ ownership.

Making up the majority of foreign ownership on the East Coast are forestry companies like Juken NZ Ltd (JNL) and Hikurangi Forest Farms Ltd (HFF).

Bayley's real estate agent James Macpherson said a lot of foreign investment in this region had been beneficial from the farm improvement point of view.

"A lot of money is spent on the property than would otherwise get spent. Often a lot of development gets done and jobs are created from that perspective.

"In some cases I think some overseas people spend more on the land than they spend to purchase it."

Mr Macpherson said a lot of that money was spent to enhance the production side, plus there was the conservation angle too.

"A lot of farms after the '80s were in need of considerable capital expenditure and so often foreign investors have bought these sorts of properties and invested a lot of money in them."

But births, deaths and marriages happened to foreigners as well, he said. Land changed hands with reasonable regularity, as it did with NZ ownership.

"Foreigners sell land too. People think that once something is sold to a foreigner, that's it. But people's circumstances change and what was a good idea 10 years ago is not a good idea 10 years on.

"As long as land is developed and money is spent to improve conservation and infrastructure, it benefits New Zealand."

Mr Macpherson said from his understanding, Asian-owned forestry companies accounted for the biggest proportion of foreign-owned land in Gisborne. In the past, land had been in demand from investors in Sweden and the United Kingdom - with quite a bit of recent interest from Switzerland, he said.

"New Zealanders over the past 10 years or so have done very well competing against foreigners because of generally good farming times and also a stronger NZ currency. The biggest advantage the US and UK buyers had was a very strong currency but that advantage is long gone."

HFF has 27,000 hectares of forest land, some of which is a joint venture with a Maori trust that owns the land. The land is used predominantly for export of wood to overseas markets like China and Asia.

General manager Paul Ainsworth said HFF was 100 per cent owned by Lingui Developments Berhad, listed on the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange.

JNL is a NZ-registered company whose parent company is Wood One Ltd, a public company on the Japanese sharemarket.

JNL have operated in NZ for 22 years and have 65,000 hectares of forest in three regions - Northland, the East Coast and Wairarapa. The company also has four processing plants.

General manager Sheldon Drummond said JNL owned 12,000 hectares of land and the remainder was leasehold and Crown licence land.

"JNL employs about 2000 full-time equivalent people in NZ to intensively manage its forests and manufacture high- quality, high-value timber products that are marketed worldwide.

"JNL has invested heavily in the NZ forestry sector and is a leader in creating value from NZ forests," he said.

Ingleby New Zealand has six farms in this country - four on the East Coast - with a total land area of 8000 hectares. Ingleby is a worldwide group of family farms with its head office in Denmark.

Its website says environmental plans on the East Coast have been developed to improve hedges and promote bird life.

"Thousands of willows, poplars and conifers are planted each year to prevent soil erosion. To further enhance sustainable farming, there are plans to build a hydro-electric plant so that the farms can be self-sufficient."

- The Gisborne Herald