Studio plans proceed despite iwi opinion

PAUL EASTON
Last updated 05:00 15/01/2013

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Plans for a giant Hollywood-style studio complex in the heart of Upper Hutt are moving ahead, with significant progress made on a land deal, despite discontent from local Maori.

As surplus Crown land, the 66-hectare Wallaceville site had to be considered for land banking before it could be sold.

But Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Christopher Finlayson and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples have decided not to land bank it.

A Sites of Significance application, based on the area's historical significance to local Maori, was dismissed last month, a spokesman for Mr Finlayson confirmed. This has paved the way for a sale on the open market by owner AgResearch.

Local iwi are unhappy at the move. Claimant Michelle Marino said she considered it "a contemporary Treaty breach".

New Zealand producer Michael Garlick, who is working on the proposal with Raleigh Studios, said he was keen to work with Maori in the future.

Founded in 1915, Raleigh is the largest independent studio operator in the United States. It has built studio complexes across the United States as well as one in Hungary and another in China.

Among recent movies produced at Raleigh Studios are Avatar, Iron Man and Transformers III.

Plans for the Wallaceville site include international quality sound stages, a public amphitheatre, outdoor filming lots, a film school, and a secure residential village for Hollywood stars.

The site would feature a variety of landscapes, including an English park, native forest, Mediterranean and Asian vistas.

Initially called Studio New Zealand, the project now has a new working title, Pacific Park Studios.

In a statement, Mr Garlick said he was pleased issues "preventing development of the former Wallaceville animal research centre site at Wallaceville, Upper Hutt were resolved".

"This now enables us to cautiously move in to the next stages of establishing much-needed film, television, screen and digital production infrastructure proposed for the Wallaceville site. We will have no further comment for the foreseeable future except to say that as the project progresses, we look forward to working with Maori and the wider community."

Upper Hutt Mayor Wayne Guppy cautiously welcomed progress. "We move on now, and so let's hope we can dot the Is and cross the Ts," he said.

AgResearch closed its Wallaceville base in 2008, with the loss of 15 jobs.

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- The Dominion Post

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