Ngai Tahu looks for southern lift
South Island iwi Ngai Tahu is looking to take a deeper financial stake in Dunedin to help spread investments and risk after the damaging Canterbury earthquakes.
At the request of Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu kaiwhakahaere Mark Solomon visited the southern city this week to discuss the potential to work more closely.
Despite difficult economic times in Dunedin recently, Ngai Tahu is taking a strategic view of geographically spreading its growing asset base.
Solomon and other Ngai Tahu community leaders met the mayor and councillors at a hui at Otakou marae to talk on ways to produce economic and other benefits for the region "by acting together".
Solomon noted the tribe has its second biggest city population in Dunedin after Christchurch, and said he would talk to the iwi's commercial arm Ngai Tahu Holdings Corp in the new year about opportunities down south.
It made sense to invest across the whole South Island and the Dunedin City Council was a potential partner.
"Both the council and our local people are interested in what more can be achieved by working together."
Ngai Tahu reached a settlement with the Crown in 1998, with the major economic redress component being $170 million. Since then the total equity of the iwi group, commercial and tribal, has grown to $658m.
Otakou runanga kaumatua Edward Ellison said the iwi could potentially make multimillion-dollar investments in Dunedin. Cull was the first Dunedin mayor he had met, Solomon said.
"It was just a meet and greet and start a conversation to create a relationship."
Ellison said there were several potential areas of investment, including seafood and property as well as partnership with groups like the Dunedin City Council.
Ngai Tahu Holdings, which already owns the Dunedin police station as well as the police station in Christchurch, had developed the Hereford St Christchurch City Council civic offices in partnership with the Christchurch City Council.
"We would like to see more commercial activity of a Ngai Tahu involvement here in [Dunedin] city.
"If there were opportunities we don't want to see them go begging," Ellison said.
There were particular "possibilities" in the fisheries sector with Ngai Tahu having quotas and a South Island- wide interest in the industry.
He noted that tourism was in a period of slow growth.
There was limited potential for the Dunedin-based runanga including Otakou and Kati Huirapa Ki Puketeraki to "engage in some of these [investment] opportunities" without the backing of Ngai Tahu Holdings.
The iwi took a long-term view of investments and potential joint venture relationships, he added.
Matapura Ellison, chairman of Kati Huirapa Ki Puketeraki, said that, without question, Ngai Tahu wanted to work with the council.
The wider Dunedin city limits contained the second largest population of Ngai Tahu in the South Island with about 2014 compared to 6280 in Christchurch.
"We recognise Christchurch is the commercial centre, the hub of the South Island," Ellison said.
"[But] it's for us also to look at, and see if we can attract some of that capital out into the regions."