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Vote by Shelly Bay whanau stops plan to sell land for new housing

BusinessDesk report by Jonathan Underhill
The Wellington Maori tribal investment vehicle, the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust, will not back a proposal to sell the old Shelley Bay defence base to local property developer Ian Cassells, following the failure by the trustees to convince a minimum 75 percent of voting members to back the deal.

The trust is subject to a Serious Fraud Office probe, the details of which are suppressed.

The trust represents Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika members, who gained the Shelley Bay site as part of a Treaty of Waitangi settlement which covers both the dilapidated former naval base and surrounding farmland, a west-facing site on Wellington’s harbour edge, close to the airport and the central business district.

The vote fell below the 75 percent support level needed for a mandate to sell the land to high-profile Cassells, although a bare majority of 51 percent was achieved for the proposal. Approval would have enabled Cassells to develop the site as a special housing area, with accelerated resource consents which would have allowed him to double the number of houses proposed for the area to 300, and include a wharf for a ferry service to the CBD.

Trust chairman Neville Baker said the sale funds were needed to enable the trust “to recover from financial difficulties surrounding its beginnings.”

“While the Serious Fraud Office is still finishing its investigations and responding to its findings and suppression orders remain in place around the matter, it has been extremely difficult to demonstrate with complete transparency the need for the sale of Shelly Bay,” Baker said.

Baker said the timing of the SFO case was still to be resolved in the High Court, which “has been unfortunate in respect of the vote.” The trust expects a ruling by the end of April this year. “The High Court may be able to complete its work and the board will be able to share that with members,” it said.

The land was owned by the New Zealand Defence Force for a century before being sold in 2008 to the Port Nicholson Trust for $16 million as part of a Treaty of Waitangi settlement.

Press Release – Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust
Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust (PNBST) has not gained the 75% mandate it needed to enable the sale of its land at Wellington’s Shelly Bay.

Of the Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika members that the Trust represents, 26% voted after several meetings for its members around the country. That is one of the largest voter turnout the Trust has had since settlement. Anthony Morton from Electionz.com reports 51% voted in favour of the sale.

Neville Baker, Chairman of the Trust, says while the sale didn’t get across the line he is pleased with the number who have been able to understand the necessity for the sale to enable the Trust to recover from financial difficulties surrounding its beginnings.

“While the Serious Fraud Office is still finishing its investigations and responding to its findings and suppression orders remain in place around the matter, it has been extremely difficult to demonstrate with complete transparency the need for the sale of Shelly Bay,” Mr Baker says.

“The timing of the SFO being able to have the matter resolved in the High Court has been unfortunate in respect of the vote. However, we understand that by the end of April this year the High Court may be able to complete its work and the board will be able to share that with members.

“Meanwhile the board has developed a robust financial strategy for the future of PNBST and we are eager to get on with that. The result of the vote may delay immediate action on Shelly Bay, but we will meet and work with interested parties to find an acceptable way forward.”

Jason Fox, PNBST’s CEO, says one important development from the voter turnout is that more of the Trust’s whanau are beginning to comprehend that the sale of development land is a necessity in the growth of the iwi. Just as some of the larger iwi have bought and sold land and other assets, PNBST will re-position itself to grow its wealth.

“We need to do what is best to increase the Trust’s wealth so we can take advantage of the rights available to us, so as to better the lives of our members regardless of past difficulties” Mr Fox says.

2012: Questions about use of money

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