Wednesday, April 24, 2024

High Court to weigh in on Taratahi land

Neal Wallace
Descendants of donors who gifted land to establish the Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre are resisting attempts by liquidators to sell any property after they failed to find an educational provider able to buy it.
Justice Helen McQueen dismissed Richard and Geoffrey Sanson’s bail applications, saying the farm had been massively overstocked and the animals seriously underfed.
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Descendants of donors who gifted land to establish the Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre are resisting attempts by liquidators to sell any property after they failed to find an educational provider able to buy it.

Accountancy firm Grant Thornton has been overseeing the liquidation of the Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre Trust board since February 2019 and has ceased the trust’s academic role since it could not find a purchaser from the educational sector.

It is subsequently asking the High Court to determine “the status of and saleability of the campus land,” situated near Masterton.

The trust’s empowering Act means any sale of land associated with the Campus or Home Dairy Farm requires the approval of the Minister of Agriculture.

In its September report, the liquidator says it is working with the Government “to find an acceptable landowner for the purposes of the Taratahi Act and who can provide commercial value for the benefit of creditors”.

Wairarapa Federated Farmers executive member William Beetham says the original land donors have intervened, claiming any land sale is counter to the conditions under which it was originally gifted.

“A consortium of donors believe strongly that the land was donated with a clear (educational) purpose and that purpose should be retained and it should not be sold.

“I think it will be very difficult to continue down this path of selling land that was originally donated by members of the community for on-farm training,” Beetham said.

Efforts are still being made to resurrect the centre for on farm-training, but Beetham says that would require the cooperation of 1200 creditors who collectively are owed nearly $16 million.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor declined to comment as the issue was before the High Court, while the Minister of Treaty Settlements Andrew Little says Taratahi land is not being land banked for use to settle treaty grievances.

Liquidators are requiring a greater commercial approach to the running of the three farms at Taratahi and the Telford campus in South Otago.

“The combination of increased production and dairy prices has provided favourable returns on the now commercially-focused farms,” Little said.

“This strategy will continue until the ownership of the Home campus and dairy farm are resolved.”

Telford is still providing agricultural education, which is being delivered by the Southland Institute of Technology.

It is hosting an open day for prospective students on October 15.

The liquidators report that in the six months to March sales of capital stock valued at $200,000 were made, although no distributions were made to the 286 secured creditors.

Repaying those creditors is dependent on “realising value in the Wairarapa campus and the home dairy farm,” the report said.

The campus has been used for short-term educational courses, such as that offered by the Universal College of Learning, which has leased it until the end of the year to provide training for people who have lost jobs due to covid.

“We continue to negotiate with education providers and navigate legal implications of any land sale under the Taratahi Act,” the report said.

“The short-term lease of the campus shows interested education providers (consider) the premises are fit for longer-term occupation.”

The High Court in Wellington confirmed a hearing to determine if Taratahi land can be sold was held on Thursday in the names of Ruscoe v Perry.

The named parties were David Ruscoe and Malcolm Moore (as liquidators), Phillida Perry, Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Primary Industries, The Tertiary Education Commission and the Attorney General.

Grant Thornton cannot say when the liquidation will be completed but says that operating the farms is providing the best returns for creditors.

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