Shock over big cut in donation

Hunter Valley Station. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
Hunter Valley Station. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
A community group  feels shortchanged after an expected donation of $30,000 from the new owners of Hunter Valley Station  turned out to be just $581.

Under a clause included in the sale of the high country station to American television journalist Matt Lauer and his wife Annette, the Upper Clutha Tracks Trust was due to receive a portion of the proceeds from the Contact Epic mountain bike race.

Part of the course runs through the station and the annual net entry fees after costs  were to be given to the UCTT annually.

UCTT chairman Grant Fyfe said the trust had been told by the Lauers’ representatives last year an annual donation of about $30,000 could be expected and the trust had not been made aware of the discrepancy until early last week.

"This inaccuracy clearly reflects on the integrity of the OIO application," Mr Fyfe said.

It was indicated to the trust at the time of the sale the amount was based on information provided by the former leaseholders, Pene and Taff Cochrane.

Mr Fyfe said the sale process could be seen as  a  missed opportunity given the small amount of access through the station which had been provided.

"It was an opportunity for access that’s been missed and may not be realised again in our lifetime."

"The OIO has to some extent relied on this annual donation instead of providing public access and it’s proven to be illusory."

Queenstown lawyer Graeme Todd, who represents the Lauers’ New Zealand-based company, Orange Lakes Ltd, said the initial amount indicated to the trust was no longer accurate as the organisers of the Epic race paid significantly less in fees for accessing the property this year than  in the past.  The leaseholders had also incurred additional costs this year to obtain a recreation permit so the race could be staged, Mr Todd said.

It was regrettable the amount paid was significantly less than what was first indicated, but the Lauers had complied with the conditions of the consent, he said.

It was also untrue no meaningful access was offered as part of the sale. His client had offered many provisions to enhance public access to and through the property, none of which were guaranteed during the previous ownership, Mr Todd said.

Overseas Investment Office communication manager Joanna Carr said the OIO had recently been advised of the discrepancy in donation paid to trust.

Inquiries would be made as to why  the difference in the amount was so large, but until there was more information the OIO would not be making any further comments, she said.

Controversy has surrounded the sale of the 10,759ha high country station’s lease,  community and access groups claiming no meaningful public access through the station was offered as part of the sale.

In its decision, the OIO indicated the Lauers’ willingness to aid public access to several important sites on or around the land was part of the reason the lease sale had been approved.

The UCTT was one of the groups involved in the discussions.

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