'Sensitive' stream delaying buyout

Scott Technology chief executive Chris Hopkins beside the Kaikorai Stream in Dunedin yesterday,...
Scott Technology chief executive Chris Hopkins beside the Kaikorai Stream in Dunedin yesterday, where it runs through Scott’s property, at the southern end of Kaikorai Valley. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Shareholder frustration is mounting over delays to the proposed buyout of specialist Dunedin engineering Scott Technology, worth up to $50 million, because of the "sensitive land'' status of Kaikorai Stream, which runs through its site.

Shareholders in late November voted overwhelmingly in favour of the deal.

Since then, the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) has been considering the purchase of the 50.1% controlling stake in Scott by the Australian subsidiary of global food giant JBS.

While the OIO's delay is not yet threatening the deal, time is ticking by to a "drop dead date'' deadline of April 30.

Further delays are expected by the OIO, which recently requested and received supplementary information from Scott and JBS.

The enforced wait meant shareholders who sold their shares were still awaiting repayment by JBS, and shareholders who provided more capital for the venture were awaiting issuance of shares, Scott chairman Stuart McLauchlan said.

"We are well aware of the uncertainty that the OIO process creates and all parties are frustrated, including a large number of shareholders who have contacted the company seeking an update on the approval process,'' Mr McLauchlan said in a market statement.

He understood the OIO application was "progressing well'' and hoped approval would come through in March.

The small Kaikorai Stream is deemed "sensitive land'' because foreign ownership has been proposed, and the stream is a classified as reserve land under the Dunedin City Council's proposed district plan.

When contacted yesterday, Scott chief executive Chris Hopkins was asked if the OIO decision was threatening to delay the deal, but said "I wouldn't have thought so, at this stage''.

"[However] we are working in a lot of uncertainty. Plans are on hold; it's frustrating for shareholders and JBS and we [Scott] can't access the capital [investment],'' he said.

The agreed "drop dead date'' for the deal to be concluded was April 30, but Mr Hopkins was confident that could be met.

Mr Hopkins noted Scott had never drawn water from the stream.

Nor does it make any discharges into it.

Since building its new plant beside the stream in 2008, Scott had worked with Kaikorai Valley College to improve the stream and public access, he said.

Once OIO approval was gained, the deal required final High Court approval, but that was not expected to take long.

Mr Hopkins said regardless of whether an application was for foreign purchase of a historic, 20,000ha farm or for "sensitive land'' like the stream, the same legislative process applied.

As far back as early November, the prospect of OIO approval over the stream's status had been raised as a potential anomaly.

While Scott had considered subdividing the stream off its land, that would have been deemed "avoidance'' by the OIO,

potentially leaving Scott open to prosecution.

Similarly, when Mr Hopkins was asked yesterday if Scott could "gift'' the stream to an organisation, he said that could also be open to interpretation as "avoidance''.

Mr Hopkins said the OIO had been asked for an estimated date for completion of the application process, but it had not provided a definite timeframe.

When the ODT contacted the OIO yesterday asking about the possible timeframe, Annelies McClure, manager of the OIO, for Land Information New Zealand, said the OIO had not asked for more information on the stream, but further information to assess the likely benefits of the proposed investment.

"There's no statutory timeframe for deciding applications, so we can't say when a decision will be made,'' she said.

● Under section 37 of the Overseas Investment Act 2005, types of sensitive land include any under a regional plan, a district plan or proposed district plan which is to be used as a reserve, or as a public park for the purposes of protecting natural and physical resources or historic heritage or providing public access to natural and physical resources or historic heritage.


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