Careful reaction to sale of farm to foreign buyer

Tracy Hicks.
Tracy Hicks.
The Mayor of Gore has cautiously welcomed the $8.65million sale of a Southland dairy farm by Solid Energy to a foreign buyer.

A Luxembourg asset management company has bought a 248ha farm near Mataura.

''If they walk the talk, then that's fine,'' Mayor Tracy Hicks said.

Solid Energy had bought nearly 1000ha of Southland farmland as it prepared to operate a now scuttled $29million briquette plant and lignite mine.

The farmland acquired for the project was put up for sale in October 2013 when Solid Energy struck financial problems from a plunging coal price.

The Overseas Investment Office approved the sale of the 248ha farm on October17 this year.

Mr Hicks said he was keen to know more about the buyer, Dynamic Asset Management Company, and its plans.

He noted that the group's application had received approval from the office as it offered jobs, increased export receipts, added productivity, additional investment for development purposes and increased processing of primary products.

Mr Hicks said the office had been ''reasonably controversial in some of the calls they've made''.

''But I haven't experienced any real negative effects from it in this part of the world.''

He said he had to place faith in the watchdog set up to ensure that overseas investment in New Zealand provided a benefit and was well managed.

''Certainly, corporate investment has come into it in certain areas and this is an example of that I guess, but that seems to be a bit of a trend throughout the country,'' he said.

''If what they're doing is going to increase the vitality and the vibrancy of this community, then I'm all for it.

''If they're not, that's another matter.''

He said there had been ''quite a lot of change'' of ownership of the Solid Energy properties.

''There was a good number of those properties. This was just one of them,'' he said.

Mr Hicks said most farm properties on the Mataura Valley Plains had changed ownership.

''Most of the sizeable ones have changed hands and in some cases the original owners have purchased those.''

Last year, Coal Action Network Aotearoa spokeswoman Rosemary Penwarden told the Otago Daily Times Solid Energy had left a divided community, sponsorships abandoned, and ''a valley full of tenant farmers'' wondering about their future.

Mr Hicks said yesterday that was not the case.

Solid Energy could not be reached for comment yesterday.

hamish.maclean@odt.co.nz

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