Ruapehu Alpine Lifts was placed into liquidation on Wednesday last week. Source: Mt Ruapehu

The Ngāti Tūwharetoa iwi has expressed interest in purchasing the Ruapehu ski fields in a deal announced this afternoon by Kiri Allan.

Allan, the Minister for Regional Development, also announced a $5 million injection to allow the liquidators of Ruapehu Alpine Lifts to run the company until a favourable outcome can be secured.

The company was placed into liquidation on Wednesday last week after a creditor vote the day before failed to approve either of the two proposals put forward.

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Allan said the capital support would provide job security and certainty for local businesses.

“We’ve always been committed to finding a way to ensure the ski season on Mount Ruapehu goes ahead this year. Cabinet’s decision today has solidified that,” Allan said.

“Ruapehu is a very significant part of the economy in the central North Island, accounting for around a tenth of regional GDP, or $100m per year. The season going ahead will save hundreds of jobs and support local tourism, the regional economy and the community, while a long-term solution is found.”

In throwing its hat into the ring, Tūwharetoa joins existing bidders Whakapapa Holdings and Pure Tūroa who were keen on the company pre-liquidation.

“The Government is now considering the three bids for government support and I have asked MBIE to engage with the bidders to determine the best outcome for RAL’s creditors, the Crown, the local economy and community,” Allan said.

“The Government remains committed to ensuring the best possible outcome for the region for many future ski seasons.”

Government support was offered to Whakapapa Holdings and Pure Tūroa in their bids to buy the RAL assets from voluntary administration.

The Crown committed to taking a quarter ownership stake in both companies, putting in 25 percent of working capital to fund the fields as well as a further loan.

Other terms of the deal included the ski field assets being delivered in a safe and serviceable condition for 2023 operating.

To enable this, the buyers require Kānoa to commit to performing and funding scheduled maintenance until the deal is completed.

The total cost of deferred maintenance on the fields is said to be around $25m.

Other expenses included Pure Turoa and Whakapapa Holdings splitting half of the $44 million owed to unsecured creditors and half of the administrators’ and liquidators’ costs and expenses.

The final decision on any sale sits with PwC liquidators John Fisk and Richard Nacey, who were formerly voluntary administrators of the company.

The current Department of Conservation concessions to operate the ski fields in the Tongariro National Park still stand for the liquidators to operate the business.

Concessions were shaping up to be a real issue for any prospective buyer, with any agreement requiring consultation with iwi, who were calling for a pause on the process to allow this to happen.

According to the Tongariro National Park Plan, which has to be followed by Conservation Minister Willow-Jean Prime in making any decision, tāngata whenua must be consulted.

“The implementation of He Kaupapa Rangatira, a framework and protocol for giving practical expression to the partnership with iwi, will ensure that iwi and hapū have an evolving and ongoing role in the management of the park,” the plan reads.

“Be it in decision-making processes for use of cultural materials, the reintroduction of previously present bird species, the consideration of concessions which may impact on cultural values or the development of further park guidelines or strategies, iwi will be involved.”

The Conservation Act also requires DoC to give effect to the principles of te Tiriti which should not be narrowly construed.

Local iwi and hapū have expressed concern about the lack of consultation throughout the administration process, only having their first meeting with the minister less than two weeks ago.

There is also an active Treaty claim over the mountain, which local iwi Uenuku expects to sign at the end of July.

Andrew Bevin is an Auckland-based business reporter who covers major industries, markets, regulation, aged care and fisheries.

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