Wellington Scoop

Absentee owners

by Lindsay Shelton
Some of us were surprised last week to learn that a wealthy Hong Kong family is seeking permission to buy car parks in Wellington. It’s the Kwok family, which already owns the Wilson Parking company which runs 19 car parks in the capital.

The Commerce Commission is considering the application to expand control of the city’s parking spaces. The Commission says it has to be satisfied that there won’t be a substantial lessening of competition if the application is approved.

There is, of course, a much more substantial and vital part of the Wellington economy that’s also owned in Hong Kong. And it operates with no competition at all.

It’s Wellington Electricity, which runs the network that delivers our power supply. It was originally owned by our local councils, till they controversially decided to sell it in the 1990s. And since 2008 it’s been owned by Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings Limited (CKI) and Hong Kong Electric Holdings Limited.

Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings Limited is the largest publicly listed infrastructure company in Hong Kong. It’s the flagship company of the richest man in Hong Kong, 87-year-old businessman Li Ka Shing. Its chairman is Victor Li, his elder son.

As well as delivering annual profits to the Li family, Wellington Electricity plays a vital role in our lives:

We connect to the transmission grid at nine GXP locations within our region. Each GXP substation transforms energy to a lower voltage for distribution through overhead wires or underground cables to the Consumer. Retail companies … purchase electricity … and package the transmission and lines charges from Wellington Electricity, along with the amount of electricity used, to create a single invoice for customers.

It’s probable that the average Wellington electricity user doesn’t realise that the city’s core delivery system is helping to increase the wealth of the richest man in Hong Kong. Or that the Kwok family is another of Hong Kong’s wealthiest families, as described here by the South China Post.

Many more us would, however, be aware that overseas ownership is about to change control of our most iconic department store.

After 150 years as a locally-owned company on Lambton Quay, Kirkcaldie and Stains is giving up the fight against years of losses. At the end of the year, ownership will pass to the famed Australian chain David Jones, which is owned by a South African company.

It’s a different story for Kirkcaldies’ Harbour City Centre, a heritage CBD building which the company sold earlier this year – it’s staying in local ownership, and is now part of the property empire of Charlie Zheng’s Cornerstone Partners.

The Museum Hotel is another locally-owned business that’s moving into overseas hands. Owner Chris Parkin announced in June that he had sold his hotel-de-wheels to some Australians who are paying $28.5million for their acquisition.

Last week we learnt that the city council will soon be handing out more of its Absolutely Positively Wellingtonian awards. Will it one day be giving an award to Li Ka Shing, for keeping our electricity supplies going? Or to the Kwok family, in recognition of how they run our car parking sites? Or – perhaps most likely – to someone from the South African conglomerate, in gratitude for their willingness to bring a famous Australian retail brand to an entire block of Lambton Quay.


  1. Maria van der Meel, 17. August 2015, 13:15

    Parking buildings in public ownership should be instrumental when adopting sinking-lid on-street parking policies to clear the way for cycling opportunities. Notwithstanding, income from on-street car-parks was built into Golden Mile budgets to pay for infrastructure over periods of 5 years to the tune of $ 1million.

  2. Mike, 17. August 2015, 15:01

    Hopefully the Commerce Commission will control the electricity lines charges ?! And not allow excessive profit taking.

  3. Henry Filth, 17. August 2015, 21:35

    I wonder how much tax gets paid by Wellington Electricity. Or is it structured so that tax is unnecessary?

  4. Phil C, 19. August 2015, 3:54

    Ah yes, I do remember the old Municipal Electricity Department. Got things done with a minimum of fuss, supplied electricity, unertook safety surveys and repairs and didn’t screw the consumer.