Plans to develop Carrington Estate have drawn ongoing opposition from local iwi. Photo / file
It’s one of Northland’s most opulent resorts with its award-winning winery, restaurant, luxury accommodation and a championship-standard 18-hole golf course.
Yet beneath Carrington Estate’s pristine façade are decades-old battles to develop the land on the
Karikari peninsula that have drawn opposition from locals despite attempts by the current Chinese-owned company Shanghai Cred to foster goodwill and relationships.
More recently, a string of staff grievances has drawn negative attention to the resort after the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) found three staff members were unfairly sacked.
Carrington’s general manager William Tan blames a “biased” ERA and is appealing all three cases.
Tan, who spoke exclusively with the Northern Advocate, also rejects recent concerns raised by a Far North iwi about plans to subdivide, saying the resource consent is an old one and is simply being renewed.
The opposition follows long-running clashes between former and current landowners of the resort and Ngāti Kahu.
Te Rūnanga-ā-Iwi o Ngāti Kahu chairwoman Professor Margaret Mutu said her latest concerns were that Carrington has started clearing “many hectares of land” behind the winery.
The Far North District Council has confirmed resource consent was lodged in September 2021 for plans to create 140 residential allotments of varying sizes on 22ha.
Tan said this is an old consent that dates back to 2012.
It was not related to the one former owner American investment banker Paul Kelly tried to push through, which got him into the first prolonged battle with the iwi as he wanted to put his housing development near an ancestral burial cave.
And it has “nothing to do” with Shanghai Cred’s plans to expand the 1200ha resort after purchasing Peppers Carrington Estate from Kelly for $28.7 million in 2013. This plan also drew objections from some hapū.
Carrington had no plans to build, Tan said, they simply want to subdivide the land, on the corner of Doubtless Bay Drive and Matai Bay Rd in Whatuwhiwhi, and sell the sections off.
“That subdivision is a renewed application of a consent issued 20 years ago.
“Any issue relating to that would have been dealt with back then,” he said.
“There’s nothing to be consulting about because it’s not a new consent.”
Mutu is not convinced, saying she’s tried to talk to Tan about the plans but can’t reach him. He refuses to meet with Ngāti Kahu, she said.
Mutu recalls the days when Shanghai Cred took over and Gui Guojie was running things and provided the iwi with several trips to Shanghai.
Mutu said, back then, “they [the company] were really good”.
Gui understood “if you try and build on a burial cave, you’re inviting disaster”.
Following that battle that ran for more than a decade, the High Court sided with the iwi and quashed Kelly’s consents.
It ordered his company to observe an out-of-court agreement not to build within 800 metres of the high-water mark, which included Taite’s Cave.
Mutu said when Gui took over, he scrapped Kelly’s resource consent altogether, though Shanghai Cred later came up with its own plans to expand.
The real estate company planned to spend nearly $1 billion on a huge tourist resort to attract wealthy Chinese tourists.
Had it gone ahead, it would have been one of the biggest tourism infrastructure investments in the country.
Then Prime Minister John Key spoke of the sheer scale of the development and how it would have had a positive impact on Northland’s economy, and Mutu hailed the partnership between the Chinese investors and Ngāti Kahu as a role model for other tour operators in New Zealand.
Mutu said under Gui’s leadership, the company and iwi would meet every year to build on the good relationship between them.
Mutu said a group of eight Ngāti Kahu ambassadors would spend a week in Shanghai learning about the development and Chinese culture.
“We built a good relationship with Mr Gui,” she said.
“We entered into an out-of-court settlement with him, and when he took over he honoured it.
“We talked about how he could help us with our commercial development. He was concerned that we succeed as Māori.”
That’s not how Tan sees it.
Shanghai Cred saw the opportunity in the prime piece of land that “would have created more jobs and been good for the region”, Tan said.
The company spent $30m on plans and consulted with iwi, he said.
“Mr Gui wanted to make friends, he said ‘we’ll look after you, no problem’.
“As a gesture of goodwill, Mr Gui offered the Shanghai trips”.
Hapū wanted their own assessors to come on board to help them understand the plans and the impact on the environment, Tan said.
By the third trip, the goodwill was wearing thin, he said.
Tan believed it was the “huge division and in-fighting” among hapū that caused the project to fall over and that “the biggest problem is within themselves.
“This is a good piece of land.
“They should focus on something else not rejecting everything. If it’s not us or an American company it will be someone else who wants to develop it.”
The council confirmed several resource consents issued for the development of Carrington Estate in 2017 have all lapsed.
Mutu admits there were “problems with some of our hapū” who didn’t want anything to go ahead.
“Mr Gui said let’s leave it, he didn’t want to proceed if people were upset. He said he would revisit the expansion plans when we were ready.
“His vision was whatever development he did had to benefit his company and the community. It was a beautiful approach.”
2018 was the last time the group went to Shanghai, Mutu said.
Since the new general manager, William Tan came in, communication was cut off, she claimed.
Mutu claimed Tan refused to meet with them.
“We had a marvellous relationship with Mr Gui,” but Mutu believe: “He’s [Tan] broken it.”
Tan refutes this.
“We were meeting regularly.
“I met Haititaimarangai marae every week or two to assess plans. I didn’t need to meet with her [Mutu] because there was nothing to talk about,” Tan claimed.
“At that time the marae rejected the plans.
“In the end, we realised it’s a waste of time.”
Tan doesn’t believe he has broken the relationship.
“Shanghai Cred acted in good faith.
“I didn’t break anything.”
Then, between 2020 and 2022, staff began taking issue with the way they were being treated and how the resort was being run.
The ERA decisions, released in December and January, ruled in favour of three people found to be unfairly sacked by the estate to a total of nearly $100,000.
Tan blames the situation on what he believes is a poor Northland work ethic coupled with a “biased” ERA and said he is appealing all three cases.
Tan, who took over as resort general manager seven years ago, said he has also “made a formal complaint against one of the judges”.
He claimed: “It’s a biased agency against the employer.
Tan said the rulings did not reflect on him as a manager and he is confident the resort is being run well.
Overall, standards were “going higher” and Carrington was “going better turnover-wise, and with occupancy rates”, he said.
Carrington employed over 120 staff he said, and was “the biggest employer in the region”, providing lots of opportunities for locals.
But the recent problems have caused him to rethink who he employs.
He was now inclined to hire “zero local people” and instead look to immigrants to fill roles as he believed they “have a much better work ethic”.
“Northland is one of the regions people are quite difficult to deal with.
“They have no idea of becoming part of an organisation, part of a team. A lot of local people are really unreliable and have a bad work ethic.
“Not everyone does, but a lot,” Tan claimed.