Veronica Harrod reports a property investment trust called Horowhenua New Zealand Trust will manage millions of dollars from land deals and demolition and construction projects across Horowhenua.
Levin’s Central Business District will be a key part of all this, says KIN’s Horowhenua correspondent.
Despite claims the Trust would be transparent and accountable, the council did not announce the name of the Trust instead the Trust was named for the first time in the Transforming Taitoko/Levin draft Town Centre Strategy.
The establishment of the Trust marks the apex of plans by council and the economic development board to create an investment vehicle to drive the Horowhenua Growth Strategy 2040 and the Levin Town Centre Strategy, in light of the proposed state highway by-pass.
The public are being consulted on both strategies now.
Ratepayer funds and public assets involved
But it is unlikely the public are aware of the true extent of proposed demolition and construction plans for Levin’s CBD — or that ratepayer funds and up to 40 percent of public assets may be funnelled into the Trust.
In a report to council late last year, economic development manager Shanon Grainger said the Trust will “own in part or wholly, or in any other arrangement, a series of limited liability investment companies (or activities) [that] operate on standard commercial terms governed by a commercial board of directors using a mix of private equity, bank-sourced debt and possibly Council assets or equity.”
Asset sales planned
Council’s chief executive David Clapperton also signalled an intention to sell up to 40 percent of public assets in a press release late last year.
And Mr Grainger said, “Resolving both of these issues is a matter of determination and momentum. Potential returns are high. The released resource would be plentiful.”
The draft Levin Town Centre Plan is based on an assumption that many buildings between the lights in Oxford Street will be targeted as earthquake priority buildings and be earmarked for demolition.
‘Opportunites’ in quake demolitions
The draft plan states, “If the majority of building owners opt to demolish earthquake-prone buildings on Oxford Street ‘between the lights’ they would (if not replaced) leave large holes in the main street which presents opportunities for change.”
This raises concerns about a potential conflict of interest between council’s role as an administrator of the 2016 earthquake priority amendments to the Building Act and council’s preferred intentions reflected in the draft Levin Town Centre Plan.
According to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), “It is important to ensure that as many iconic heritage buildings as possible are retained and the new legislation reflects a balanced approach by providing owners of key buildings with more time if they need it.”
Other options for building owners include applying for an exemption. But the criteria are not prescribed which means there is a danger an eligibility criteria may be developed that favours the preferred priorities of council and the Trust.
Directors of the newly established Trust in the first instance are council’s in-house economic development board members some of whom have multi-million dollar financial interests in land and property development and the construction industries.
Board members include deputy mayor Wayne Bishop, who has three land and property development companies, and Evan Kroll, managing director of Stevensons engineering company.
Council’s chief executive David Clapperton has refused to release the minutes of economic development board meetings held in 2016 and 2017 even though three councillors sit on the board. The Office of the Ombudsman has not released its decision on this yet.