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Interest spikes in South Canterbury Finance's 64 hectare Belfast Park after the Christchurch earthquake

Interest spikes in South Canterbury Finance's 64 hectare Belfast Park after the Christchurch earthquake

By Gareth Vaughan

The receiver of South Canterbury Finance (SCF) says interest from both property developers and the government in 64 hectares of land the failed finance company controls on the northern outskirts of Christchurch has increased since a devastating earthquake hit the city on February 22.

McGrathNicol managing partner and SCF receiver, Kerryn Downey, told the land in East Belfast would definitely be sold although no sales process was yet underway. SCF controls the 64 hectares, which the Christchurch City Council recently rezoned from "Rural 3" to "Living G" to allow mixed density residential development along with small areas of commercial and industrial land, through subsidiaries Belfast Park Ltd and Tyrone Estates Ltd.

"That zoning approval and so forth has really added quite significant value and that was obviously prior to the earthquake," Downey said. "And (after) the earthquake, as unfortunate an incident as it is, the land would appear to be of greater interest."

This interest was coming from a number of property developers and government.

"We're working with these various parties and are just at the very early stages of discussions, really, around the ideal uses of the property and the development capabilities of the property. But we haven't commenced an active sales process yet."

Asked whether he may come under pressure from government interest in the land given as SCF receiver he is acting on behalf of the taxpayer who is facing a huge bill following the earthquake, Downey said his job was to get the best price for the land no matter who it was from.

"My prime objective, and my responsibility under the Receiverships Act, is to get the highest value reasonably obtainable at the time," said Downey. "Whether there be an offer through a government agency, through an SOE or (from) private enterprise, it doesn't matter as long as I get best value. As long as I follow a process that ensures I've got best value, I'm not selective as to who I sell (to) or what deal I make at the end of the day."

Downey said to "the best of our knowledge" there's no liquefaction at the site, with the land largely alluvial . He wouldn't say what he thought the land might be worth, but said McGrathNicol would be getting value assessments on both a developed and undeveloped basis.

'No particular discussions on Belfast Park' - English

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Bill English said he had not held any particular discussions about Belfast Park.

"The government agencies have been doing a stock-take of what land is available, and there are a number of owners there, including the South Canterbury receiver, but we haven’t had any particular discussions about that (Belfast Park) site," English said.

"There’s also a lot of other private sector activity going on at the moment with various developers and businesses looking for land as well."

Asked whether the government could direct Downey as SCF receiver to not sell the 64 hectare site, English said government had "kept pretty arms length from the receiver."

"They’re making decisions about asset disposals. We simply haven’t considered this issue in detail," English said.

McGrathNicol was appointed SCF receiver on August 31 last year when a waiver to a breach of the company’s trust deed expired and it failed to secure up to NZ$300 million of much needed fresh equity.

The receivership triggered a NZ$1.6 billion payout to 35,000 SCF investors under the Crown retail deposit guarantee scheme and a NZ$175 million Crown loan to McGrathNicol so it could repay SCF's prior charge holders including the George Kerr chaired Pyne Gould Corporation subsidiary Torchlight.

SCF staff physically okay, Scales House sale halted by earthquake

Downey, who was in Christchurch when the earthquake struck, said it was a "very sobering" experience. Fortunately all of SCF's staff had survived, he said, although one staff member had lost his wife.

Meanwhile, the 80% SCF owned Scales Corporation had suffered a collapsed cool store roof in one of its leased buildings, which a business interruption insurance claim would be filed for. Downey said, however, this wouldn't be for "mega dollars." Scales is the country’s biggest apple grower and exporter and also has shipping logistics and pet food ingredients businesses, cool stores, industrial parks, bulk liquid storage and processing, and insurance operations.

Downey has Scales plus other SCF assets - Helicopters NZ, Face Finance and a 33.5% stake in New Zealand's biggest dairy farming group Dairy Holdings - on the block. He doesn't expect the earthquake to delay the sales processes significantly. However, he said the earthquake had stopped, at least for now, the proposed sale of Scales House which would have fetched "more than several million dollars."

"Scales House can't be occupied for a year," Downey said.

"There's engineering work to be done and earthquake strengthening work to be done. Regrettably that building was the subject of an offer which was due to be considered by the board on the day of the earthquake so that offer has gone away, which is obviously regrettable."

*Additional reporting by Alex Tarrant.

* This article was first published in our email for paid subscribers this morning. See here for more details and to subscribe.

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Guys! Check this out with our Man on the Ground, Chris_J. I recall this land being at the back of St. Albans ( an old peat bog; there's drainage channels all over the place out there) and before Marshlands ( says it all !) and that's why they used it for the stockyards. And now we want to use it for residential land? And when the next 'quake shakes...? Why else do you think the CCC was previously reluctant to reclassify the land?

Spot on Snarlypuss - Plus all the nasty's that have leached into the ground around the site.

You also have to wonder about Pegasus - That place is build on a swamp, very very low lying land.

Pegasus spent a large sum strengthening the land, but only after they arrived on site one morning to find a digger that had sunk up to its neck in the swamp. As a result, they sustained no damage in either of the big quakes.

They came through well and will be a player.

It's quite a bit farther out than St Albans.  St Albans has major land damage in parts but it dissipates as you move north, some of the really marshy land didn't actually have much liquifaction (I'm not sure but the peat layers may have actually acted like a filter keeping the silt below).  That doesn't mean it's great land though.  In Belfast there was some liquifaction around the Kaputone Stream on Main North Road (the stream runs through the Belfast Park site), but there was also liquifaction in Northwood (which would've seemed better land).

Of course there's better land but what happens in ChCh now is a case of "who knows?".  I had a better look round the CBD today, I believe it could less than a third of buildings that can be reoccupied as is (and that's possibly as little as 20% of gross floor areas).  $30billion is starting to look conservative!  Of course it's mainly office and retail worst affected but essentially every big building is literally buggered.


old Johnny one-note has been conspicuous by his absence post 'quake. No sneering at the Council, no deriding JK.

You don't think he's busy with this, do you?

The good land is the expensive land..dont expect to see the government buy the good land..they do not have the dosh.

Just remember Chris J..our richest friends in CHC Nagi Tahu own a heap of land..Wigram Air field, a huge sub division in Lincoln backing onto Hornby, Hei hei and templeton..all of these areas held up very well in Earthquake.....they will no doubt be stricking a deal with council and govt as they have always done.

ahhh some held up well in the first earthquake some not, it an't all just about the 22nd of Feb. In addition Wigram air field is now require for their own and other associated activities. Interesting to see how much is spare after the dust settles.