Week in Review

Billionaire’s golf tourism vision for Mangawhai

Build it and they will come. A US billionaire’s plan to build more golf courses in Mangawhai to attract tourists rolls on despite border closures. Farah Hancock reports.

A town north of Auckland which is home to around 10,000 residents is set to have four golf courses.

Two of those are existing: one has been there since the 1970s - a local course with green fees ranging from $85 for overseas visitors to $35 for under 18s - and the second is the exclusive members-only Tara Iti golf course. Tara Iti was built by US billionaire Ric Kayne and does not publicise membership costs. Now Kayne plans to build two more links-style courses, but these will be open to the public.

Brad Grimmer, the general manager of the existing public Mangawhai Golf Club, personally supports the new development, saying he would like the area to “become like Queenstown, a ‘golfing destination’ that would attract tourists”. 

Kayne’s application to acquire 169 hectares of land for two more 18-hole public golf courses on the coast has now been approved by the Overseas Investment Office (OIO).

The value of the transaction is listed by the OIO as $3.49 million. The majority of the land will be leased, and 25 hectares will be purchased. 

The land is currently covered in pine forest, which was planted to control sand dunes. These will be felled as part of the development, with golf greens and native plantings established in their place. Two public walking tracks will be built leading to the shore, along with visitor accommodation and at least one clubhouse.

The OIO approval for the offshore purchase was based on the development of the courses bringing benefit to New Zealand. The billionaire's development is seen as advancing the New Zealand-Aotearoa Government Tourism Strategy. It’s expected that by 2022 the development will bring in export receipts of $6m, despite Covid-19 meaning international tourism is likely to remain low. 

A spokesperson for the development said plans were on track despite uncertainty caused by border closures: “While it’s hard to predict, the current Covid-19 impacts on NZ’s tourism sector will, hopefully, have abated by the time the courses are completed and ready to open.”

The Tara Iti course is currently ranked the world’s second best course outside of the United States.

“The expectation is that these courses will be of similar calibre, meaning the Auckland region will become one of the world’s most sought-after golfing destinations - similar to places like Monterey in California.”

Plenty of strings attached 

The approval for purchase comes with a number of special conditions from the OIO which must be met.

These include the requirement to spend $25 million on the development of the courses and create the equivalent of at least 38 full-time jobs by 2025. 

If this does not happen, the OIO may force the sale of the land. 

Other special conditions outlined in the OIO approval include: 

  • Resource consents must be obtained by February 2023

  • The golf courses, a clubhouse and visitor accommodation must be developed by February 2025

  • Tom Doak and Coore Crenshaw, or golf course designers of a similar calibre, must design one each of the two courses

  • Ric Kayne, his wife Suzanne and others with financial interests tied to their holdings company and trust are not allowed to reside on the land

  • Employ a full-time conservation ranger by 2022

  • Start planting at-risk and threatened plant species on the land from February 2022

  • Create two walking tracks for public to access the beach

  • Meet with Heritage New Zealand to discuss whether protective covenant may be appropriate by February 2022

  • Implementation of a site management plan to enhance the restoration of sand dunes, wetlands, shrublands and other indigenous habitats

  • Special rules around a water consent limiting how much is taken and when it is taken

Past issues and a watching brief on consents

Kayne’s first development caused frustration for conservationists and locals. 

The proposed shifting of a beachfront carpark used by locals to 300m away from the beach and behind houses built by the developers caused issues. Then there's the fence in front of a house being built for Kayne that eats into a Department of Conservation reserve - at least twice people on public conservation land have been told they're trespassing. 

A dam constructed by the golf development company on public land over Te Arai stream also controversially blocked the passage of fish - a serious problem for New Zealand's fewer than 40 fairy tern, which use the stream mouth as both a nesting and feeding habitat.

A local conservation group took the issue to court to get the dam removed and a case was brought against Auckland Council, which had given retrospective approval for the dam. The developers eventually removed the dam a few weeks ago.

During the Environment Court hearing regarding the dam, Judge Jeff Smith said he had previously sat on other cases related to the Tara Iti golf course and was aware of the background to the many consents the course developers have applied for. Many of these were non-notified, meaning the public had no say.

“We've made some relatively terse comments about the way it had been chopped into tiny pieces to get consents without notification.”

For this development, a key consent relates to the water necessary to establish greens.

The OIO consent special conditions include rules about water take from the Poutawa stream. This stream is listed in a Department of Conservation discussion document about whitebait management. 

The OIO conditions say the application for resource consent to take water from the stream states no water can be taken in December, January and February when fairy tern forage in the estuary, and in months when it can be taken, no more than 10 percent be taken at any one time. 

A copy of the water consent application is to be supplied to the OIO within six weeks of the application made. Other water will come from groundwater, which will be diverted away from Lake Tomarata. 

One member of the Te Arai Beach Preservation Society, Mike Harris, said personally he’s supportive of the proposed development but felt a “watching brief” was in order to ensure promises are kept.

“To my mind, golf courses are amongst the most benign of land uses in this area. For one they act as a buffer for pests between farmland and parkland. Sure, the water is a real concern, so we should act to ensure that water rights are not to the detriment of the environment.” 

The society has not yet met as a group to formally discuss the development as there has yet been no communication from the developers or Auckland Council regarding consents.

Local farmer Margaret Fishlock hopes any plans for water consents are made clear. 

"We've got a bore for water for our stock and we certainly wouldn't want that to be affected."

She said past resource consents for the Tara Iti golf course had been non-notified.

"They've just been handed out by Auckland Council. How can the public have a say?"

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