American billionaire Kiwi resident wins Overseas Investment Office land deal consent

09 May 2020 9:28 AM | Mike Hearn (Administrator)

An American billionaire who lives in New Zealand has won consent to buy land north of Auckland for new golf course ventures.

Ric Kayne has already spent an estimated $100 million creating one of the world's top 10 golf courses and now his plans to spend another $50m-plus developing two new public courses have taken a step forward.

In January, American publication Golf Digest released its list of the world's best non-US courses, naming Tara Iti course at Te Arai, between Pakiri and Mangawhai, as the world's second-best after Northern Ireland's Royal County Down course.

Last week the Overseas Investment Office released approval for Te Arai Links to buy 169ha of sensitive land at Te Arai South, a beachfront site flanked by pine forests just over an hour north of Auckland. Of the 169ha, 144ha is leasehold and 25ha is freehold.

Kayne struck a deal with Ngati Manuhiri, who bought the Mangawhai south forest as part of their commercial redress under their Treaty of Waitangi settlement.

According to the OIO decision, Kayne plans to develop two links-style 18-hole championship level golf courses on the land, together with a clubhouse and visitor accommodation, as well as maintenance and water storage facilities. The land is now a pine plantation used for production forestry.

Kayne has previously said he wanted to build two public courses of similar quality to Tara Iti, which he completed in the adjacent Mangawhai north forest. That was also a project in which he partnered with a local iwi – in that case Te Uri o Hau – and with Queenstown investor and golf developer John Darby.

Former United States President Barack Obama played at Tata Iti in 2018.

Kayne told the Herald last March: "The goal is to create a significant recreational, economic and environmental asset for Auckland and New Zealand.

"Much of the 700ha Mangawhai south forest will be retained by Ngati Manuhiri. About 200ha is expected to be turned into a regional park in partnership with Auckland Council. That will include all the beachfront land and sensitive ecological areas.

Kayne's Tara Iti includes major environmental enhancements such as a large-scale native revegetation programme and pest and weed control. That approach is expected to be replicated in this new project.

The OIO decision says the benefits of allowing the business to buy the land include the creation of 40 permanent full-time roles, an increase in exports by at least $6m annually by the end of 2022, advancement of the New Zealand-Aotearoa Government Tourism Strategy and the introduction to New Zealand of at least $25m for development purposes.

A written history of the land shows that in 1993, Carter Holt Harvey was granted a long-term Crown forest licence for the north and south forests. Commercial pine plantations were originally established there by the Forest Service.

Public access to the forests was banned then and the privately-held pine plantations extended over the foredunes down to the high tide line of both the north and south beaches.

In 2000 the Crown included the freehold of the north and south forests as commercial redress land for settlement of Treaty claims. Two years later, a Crown deed of settlement was reached with Te Uri o Hau to transfer the freehold ownership of the north forest to a settlement trust.

John Darby said that a year later, the trust selected his Queenstown-headquartered landscape architects Darby Partners as its joint venture partner.

Later, the Te Arai south forest was included in Ngati Manuhiri Treaty settlement claim.

In 2004, a new comprehensive and sustainable land use plan for both forests was progressed with the two iwi settlement trusts. Darby said a key component of that plan was the creation and management of a coastal park extending the length of both forests either side of Te Arai Point.

That provided for reinstatement of the foreshore's natural character and improved public beach access and recreational opportunities, balanced with the protection and enhancement of endangered shorebird habitat.

In 2005 Darby Partners bought the lease over 754ha of the south forest on behalf of a pending joint venture with Ngati Manuhiri.

In 2009 Ngati Manuhiri signed an agreement for settlement of historic claims, and in 2012 its settlement trust bought the freehold land at Mangawhai South. A year later, it struck a joint venture with Darby Partners to plan and fund an integrated, sustainable land use plan for better economic, cultural and environmental outcomes.

By 2016, Auckland Council's Unitary Plan recognised the South Te Arai Special Precinct, based on the original integrated land use plan. That provides for:

• A new 180ha coastal park for public use
• An extensive trail network over private land, linking reserves
• Removal of pine plantations and revegetation with native species
• Protection and enhancement of endangered shorebird habitat
• 60 rural residential lots
• Visitor facilities, amenities and accommodation including public campground
• Two championship public links-style golf courses

The habitat of New Zealand's endangered fairy tern - or Tara Iti - is in the area. But Leigh Bull of consultancy Boffa Miskell, which consulted on plans for the land, said the terns were not where the two new golf courses were planned.

"The golf courses in the Te Arai south forest are located away from foraging and breeding habitats of the New Zealand fairy tern/Tara Iti. East coast New Zealand fairy tern breeding sites are all located north at Waipū, Mangawhai, Te Arai Stream and south at Pakiri of the Te Arai south forest," Bull said.

"There is no New Zealand fairy tern breeding at Poutawa Stream. The Te Arai stream at Te Arai North is also a well-known post-breeding flock site for east coast birds, which is not the case for the Poutawa Stream at Te Arai South. New Zealand fairy tern have been reported foraging at Spectacle and, to a lesser extent, Slipper lakes during their post-breeding period from December to March but not at Tomarata Lake," Bull said.

By: Anne Gibson

Property editor, NZ Herald