Ngai Tahu's economic might

News this week that Ngai Tahu plans to buy land by Logan Park and develop a $20 million student hostel for Otago Polytechnic students is excellent.

Assuming the deal can go ahead - public consultation is required before the Dunedin City Council can confirm the sale - this should boost the polytechnic and, by extension, the city.

Otago Polytechnic continues to thrive in the ever-changing and ever-challenging education market.

About 60% of its students come from outside Dunedin and overseas student numbers have grown to 340 full-time equivalents, boosted in the past two years by the 120 at the polytechnic's Auckland campus.

The hostel could be built by the beginning of 2015 and include up to 235 rooms, based around five-bedroom self-contained apartments, with supervision within the hostel.

As the University of Otago has found, good and supervised accommodation is important in attracting first-year students, most of whom have just left school.

The same applies for many international students, with the polytechnic hoping some of those 120 in Auckland will go on with further study in Dunedin.

The polytechnic will be pleased Ngai Tahu is involved. It has a savvy, sound business reputation and one for hiring the best and brightest operators.

Since its $170 million Treaty of Waitangi settlement in 1998, Ngai Tahu has exploited its assets and advantages and expanded. In the past financial year its business arm, Ngai Tahu Holdings Corporation, expanded its operating net surplus from $17.81 million to $55 million.

It has shareholder equity of $586.87 million and distributed $26.26 million to runanga.

It describes itself as one of Aotearoa's leading investors with an active, inter-generational focus, and this shows through in its investments, which are focused on New Zealand and particularly the South Island.

If any group can make a success of this project, it could well be Ngai Tahu.

Ngai Tahu Property, part of Ngai Tahu Holdings, is behind the plan. It already has an impressive portfolio, its assets having a market value of about $500 million.

It is involved in property investment, property management, property development and farming. As well, the tribe's right of first refusal to buy Crown land has been a healthy contributor.

Ngai Tahu Property owns several of Christchurch's high-profile buildings as well as three of Christchurch's largest planned residential land developments. It has several Crown-tenanted buildings, including court properties in Christchurch and Queenstown and police buildings in both those centres and Dunedin.

Its rural land covers 83,600ha, including three Lake Wakatipu high country stations, and Ngai Tahu has niche fishing operations as well as being a significant quota owner. It owns 30 million Ryman Healthcare shares.

Ngai Tahu Tourism's companies include Shotover Jet, Franz Glacier Guides, Glacier Hotpools (Franz Josef), Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park (Rotorua), Huka Falls Jet (Taupo), Agrodome (Rotorua), Dart River Safaris and Hollyford Track.

With Dunedin under pressure from Government-related organisations centralising - particularly to Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland - the city will also welcome the stance of Ngai Tahu Property chief executive Tony Sewell that talks are under way with potential investment partners in Dunedin that could lead to more projects.

It is said Ngai Tahu is planning to invest nearly $300 million across the South Island, including more in Dunedin. Given the extent of Ngai Tahu's investments in Christchurch, and Mr Sewell's characterisation of Dunedin as a major centre of the South Island and a major part of Ngai Tahu's rohe (territory), it could well be that Dunedin is an attractive investment destination for the Christchurch-based organisation.

Ngai Tahu, with its economic might, has become a massive player in the South Island economy. Dunedin and Otago could be in line to benefit from its interest and its investments.

And another thing
While Dunedin shows resilience, and positive economic signs - like the planned hostel - are present, the continuing loss of government-related jobs outside education and health remains a dark cloud.

The fight to save Invermay still requires more emails and letters from people of the South to Cabinet Minister Steven Joyce and MP Michael Woodhouse to show just how seriously we take the downgrading of Dunedin and Otago.

If you haven't already done so, we encourage you to make your views known.


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