18 Sep 2014

Flock Hill denies evicting tourist firm

11:40 am on 18 September 2014

The owners of a South Island station deny they are blocking a tourist company's access and are surprised a deal they had agreed to has been derailed and politicised.

Flock Hill Station.

Flock Hill Station. Photo: Supplied

High Country Explorer Tours, of Rangiora, complained to the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) that the new American owners of Flock Hill Station have blocked them from going on to the property.

The company has run a four-wheel-drive tour on the station for 23 years but said it could have to close as a result of being barred.

However, Flock Hill Holdings director Mark Fraundorfer said the station was finalising a deal to extend the tour company's access in return for a small fee when High Country Explorer Tours went to the media.

"On Monday of this week we reached an agreement with him as to going forward and had instructed our lawyer to draw up a new access agreement and he was in the process of doing it this morning when the news broke."

Mr Fraundorfer said he had no idea why the tour company was politicising an essentially commercial matter just a few days out from the election.

High Country Tours managing director Rodney Bennett said it had complained to the OIO on the grounds the station owners' decision breached rules requiring foreign owners to retain jobs; his company employs 16 people.

The OIO has rejected his complaint and said in a statement yesterday it considered the issue to be a private commercial matter for the two parties to resolve.

It had reviewed the 2009 application from the American owners and was satisfied the applicant met, and continued to meet, all relevant criteria.

Mr Bennett said the OIO's decision meant he was running out of options to save his business.

"I would imagine the whole thing is surprising to a lot of New Zealanders because the Overseas Investment Office's role is to monitor overseas investment and make sure that investment is to the benefit of New Zealand," he said.

"Certainly, in this case, it doesn't appear to be beneficial to New Zealand."

High Country Explorer Tours directors Lois and Rodney Bennett.

High Country Explorer Tours directors Lois and Rodney Bennett. Photo: Supplied

Mr Bennett said Flock Hill Station contained some of the country's most iconic landscapes and had featured in Hollywood's Chronicles of Narnia.

His business had been operating at Flock Hill for 23 years and moving anywhere else would be difficult, he said.

Let down

The American-owned Coast Range New Zealand successfully increased its leasehold in the station to 100 percent in 2010 on condition it improved the farm's productivity and retained or created jobs.

Mr Bennett said that had not happened, and he felt let down by the OIO.

Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa spokesperson Murray Horton said there had been numerous examples of foreign land owners barring recreational users from high country stations and he was not surprised to hear about the situation at Flock Hill.

The OIO acted as a doorman when what the country really needed is a bouncer.

Flock Hill Station.

Flock Hill Station. Photo: Supplied

Waimakariri candidate and Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove said the OIO approved the purchase of Flock Hill without taking into consideration its potential impact on High Country Explorer Tours and needed to revisit the decision.

"The minister and the OIO should go back and say 'hang on, we're going to revoke this because there was inadequate, insufficient information that didn't even meet the OIO criteria to retain and create jobs."

Mr Cosgrove said Labour would ban sales of land to overseas buyers unless it could be proved the sale would produce overwhelming benefits for the country.

A spokesperson for Michael Woodhouse, the minister with responsibility for the OIO, said the minister had other commitments and was not available for an interview.

Flock Hill Station.

Flock Hill Station. Photo: Supplied

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