Companies behind huge dairying plans fold

Richard Peacocke
Richard Peacocke
Two companies which caused a furore almost three years ago with plans to milk nearly 11,000 dairy cows in the Omarama area have gone into voluntary liquidation.

Richard Peacocke, director of Southdown Holdings Ltd and Williamson Holdings Ltd, confirmed yesterday when contacted shareholders had decided to enter "solvent liquidation", for both companies because the process for the dairy developments had become "too long, too hard".

Mr Peacocke, a Mt Maunganui businessman, became the companies public face in the debate over plans for widespread dairying and land intensification through more irrigation in the upper Waitaki catchment.

Millions of dollars were spent on the proposal, resource consents process and property development, although Mr Peacocke yesterday declined to be more specific.

Southdown proposed establishing six dairy farms running up to 7000 cows on Glen Eyrie Downs in Quailburn Rd near Omarama.

Williamson Holdings planned three dairy farms with 3850 cows on 1200ha of Killermont Station land on SH8 it had a purchase option over, subject to conditions.

The 2135ha Glen Eyrie Downs property, which has a Waitaki district rateable value of just over $5 million, has been offered for sale.

According to Companies Office records, both companies went into voluntary liquidation on May 1, appointing independent liquidator Stuart Robertson.

In September 2009, both companies sought land-use and water-resource consents to develop the dairy farms. While land use was granted, the vital water consents were declined by an Environment Canterbury panel in November, 2011. That decision was appealed to the Environment Court.

Mr Peacocke said the resource consents decision had led to the liquidation and the decision to sell Glen Eyrie.

The shareholders, New Zealanders living in Australia, made "a commercial decision" on analysing the resource consents decision and decided the project had "been going on too long [and was] too hard" and they would do something else.

As a result, Southdown was selling Glen Eyrie Downs. Williamson only had options on land.

Asked to indicate how much money had been invested in planning the project and seeking consents, Mr Peacocke replied: "I could - but I won't".

In 2010, he said "millions of dollars" had been poured into the project, including $2 million just on removing wilding pines from Glen Eyrie Downs.

"In the nine years since we started this project, the world has changed. There are easier ways for my shareholders ... to make a dollar," he said.

The process for other companies wanting water had not finished, and faced Environment Court and possibly other proceedings.

Mr Peacocke said it would be up to the companies' liquidator to decide what should happen to appeals Southdown and Williamson had lodged with the Environment Court.

The proposal for widespread dairying development in the Omarama and Ohau areas caused a national outcry. Some environmental groups described plans to house the cows in cubicles as "factory farming".

That was denied by the companies involved, but they faced more than 5000 submissions on their and others' resource consent applications for water from the upper Waitaki catchment.

At the time, Mr Peacocke said if the two companies did not get approval for the dairy farms, "we would have expended considerable capital and the farms will be in a difficult position".

He said the developments presented "a unique opportunity to make these land blocks highly productive and create a positive economic benefit to [the two companies] and the district".

- david.bruce@odt.co.nz