Zealong Tea: 'We're still here'
Waikato green tea exporter Zealong Tea says rumours of its demise have been greatly exaggerated as it is swamped with calls from concerned supporters and tea house cancellations after selling part of its tea estate.
Zealong this week said it had sold its original Borman Rd tea farm on the edge of Hamilton's northern suburbs to a residential property developer rather than face its Rototuna neighbours' wrath if it has to use helicopters to combat frost damage during harvest next month.
Bulldozers will move onto the 11ha Borman Rd tea farm in November and the company said it would now focus on developing its big Gordonton plantation and tourism site.
Spokeswoman Gigi Crawford says the news has sparked a flood of phone calls of support, and worse, cancellations for the Gordonton teahouse and Discover Tea experience, as people wrongly assume the worst - that the whole operation has closed.
City council advised Zealong on chopper use
Hamilton City Council cautioned the Zealong Tea company, which has sold part of its tea farming estate rather than face more wrath from Rototuna neighbours over helicopter use against frost damage, that further chopper use would likely attract more complaints.
Responding to this week's news that Zealong has sold its original Borman Rd tea farm to a property developer, and a claim the company got insufficient guidance from the council on the rules around helicopter use during peak October harvest, the council has issued a statement saying it was not its job to give permission.
The Borman Rd plantation was established nearly 10 years before urban northern housing sprawl reached its back boundary, and the 11 hectare property has since been changed to residential zoning from the previous "rural general" zoning.
Zealong manager Gigi Crawford said with a $2 million harvest at risk from late frosts next month, the company, whose main plantation is in Gordonton, had approached the council about using a helicopter again.
Last October Zealong attracted complaints when it called in a chopper before dawn on one occasion. Ms Crawford said Zealong had been told by a council staff member "it would depend".
She said with a valuable harvest at stake, this advice was too "vague", and the company had sold the property.
The council statement said after one formal noise complaint last year, staff had visited Ms Crawford to discuss the likelihood and timing of future helicopter use.
"Ms Crawford was advised by staff that if Zealong continued a practice of using helicopters for frost control, it was likely they would encounter more complaints.
"If complaints are made the council needs to investigate them. Staff also suggested there may be alternative options for frost protection but that investigation of these would be Zealong's responsibility," the statement said.
Ms Crawford had contacted the council in January this year seeking permission to use helicopters and was told it was not the role of the council to give permission.
That would be Zealong's decision, the statement said. Zealong, which exports premium organic oolong and other teas to Asia and Europe, now plans to focus on developing its big Gordonton camellia plantation.
It would invest up to $5 million in a new visitor centre and leaf drying plant, Ms Crawford said.
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