Foreigners got consent to buy $2.1 billion of New Zealand assets classed as rural, sensitive or worth $100m-plus in the first five months of the year.
The Overseas Investment Office has just released its list of decisions made between January and May, and the figures show a sharp decline from the $4.6b recorded over the same period last year.
This year's three biggest deals are:
• Lee Bell Inc's proposed acquisition of up to 100 per cent of the shares of Icebreaker Holdings, a net investment of $272,131,200;
• Waste Management NZ Limited's proposed acquisition of a leasehold interest in 5ha at 11 Springs Rd, East Tamaki, Auckland – a net investment of $254,734,992;
• CP Auckland LP's proposed acquisition of a freehold interest in approximately 6ha of non-sensitive land comprising Central Park, at 666 Great South Rd, Greenlane, Auckland, together with improvements – a net investment of $140,866,000
Last year, 41 deals were approved in the first five months compared to 34 this year.
The Government has vowed to tighten the law around foreign property purchases in New Zealand, particularly in relation to housing.
One of the more contentious decisions this year involves a Chinese company's consent to buy sensitive land in the Bay of Plenty for a bottled water operation where it says it will increase capacity 900 per cent, build high-speed bottling lines and generate $65 million-plus in exports.
Sensitive land is defined as non-urban, more than 5ha and adjoining significant land such as the foreshore and seabed. It also includes land on islands, on lake beds, in conservation areas, in spaces reserved for recreation and that which is subject to heritage orders or in historic areas.
The OIO decision shows Creswell NZ, a business fully owned by Chinese entities, got consent to buy 6.2ha of land at 57 Johnson Rd, Otakiri Springs, in the Bay of Plenty from the Robertsons for a secret sum.
Creswell has been reported as planning to export more than one billion litres of drinking water each year from New Zealand.
Cresswell is a wholly owned subsidiary of Nongfu Spring Co, a large bottled water supplier based in China.
Bottled water exports from New Zealand have been a controversial issue, and the Government plans to introduce a royalty. However, how that could breach free trade deals has been raised in discussions. Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said last month he was confident a solution to implement a royalty on bottled water would be found before the end of the year.
Whakatane district councillor Mike van der Boom has been part of a neighbourhood group fighting the expansion of Otakiri Springs for two years. Van der Boom owns a property next to the springs.
Cresswell said it plans to invest $42 million within four years to improve the plant and increase productivity. This, the company said, would allow for the creation of 60 jobs and generate more than $65 million in exports.
The largest deal approved in May was for $280m and involved China's Zehijiang Rifa Precision Machinery Co.
The second largest deal was for $209m: CP Auckland (42 per cent North American, 31 per cent Cayman Islands) got consent to buy 6.2ha of non-sensitive land in Central Park at 666 Great South Rd at Greenlane in Auckland from Goodman Nominee (NZ). Details of the deal have been announced already by Goodman. The OIO said 60 tenants and 11 office buildings with two stand-alone carpark buildings were on the land.
In other applications, almost no details were released of a deal where Mai Chen of Chen Palmer in Wellington acted for the secret party involved. The amount of money involved, who was buying and who was selling and the background were all suppressed. Consent was granted. A second application given consent also had all details suppressed apart from the fact that Andrew Petersen of Bell Gully acted.
Fletcher Distribution (35 per cent Australian and 21 per cent various overseas persons) got consent to buy 2.2ha of land classified as sensitive at Wiri in Auckland for $500,000.
The retail trading arm and wholly owned indirect subsidiary of Fletcher Building, trading under the name PlaceMakers tried to buy the land at 53-55 McLaughlins Rd. The OIO said the business already occupies the land under a lease and that Fletcher had a history of previous investment, which had been of benefit to New Zealand.
Heritage Lifecare Villages (49.8 per cent Australian) got consent to buy Cargill Rest Home in Invercargill for a sum that is suppressed. The 1.3ha site is classified as sensitive.