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Third party expresses interest in Taratahi sale

The long-awaited sale of the Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre could be on the horizon thanks to liquidators having found a potential buyer.

Accounting firm Grant Thornton – which was appointed as liquidator on February 5, 2019 after the centre entered liquidation in December 2018, owing more than $15 million – said an unidentified third party that’s believed to meet the requirements for government approval had expressed interest in purchasing the Wairarapa campus and home dairy farmland in Taratahi.

The firm said it was negotiating with education providers and navigating the legal implications of any land sale under the Taratahi Act.

However, when the liquidator’s report was published on March 1, it was still “not practicable to estimate a completion date for the liquidation”.

Grant Thornton said it was continuing to operate the three remaining farms.

“Our intention is to continue to operate these farms while they generate commercial returns, alongside negotiating the sale of the Wairarapa campus and home dairy farmland to generate the best returns to creditors,” the firm said.

Permission was granted in a High Court judgement last year to sell the land in order to repay debt.

The 1969 Wairarapa Cadet Training Farm Act allows the land to be sold with the approval
of the Minister of Agriculture.

High Court Justice Ellis found the sale of the land for the purpose of paying creditors would be lawful, so long as the sale was agreed to by the Minister of Agriculture.

She said a decision to sell was likely to require wider consideration by the Minister. Justice Ellis said the receivers for the Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre sought the High Court ruling, but descendants of the original donors wanted the land retained for education – the reason their families originally gifted the land in 1918.

The respondents to the case were Phillida Perry, a descendent of a land donor, and the Attorney General.

The respondents argued that the legislation did not grant power to the trust to sell the land and that, if it was to be discarded, it should be offered back to the descendants of donors.

Grant Thornton’s March report showed the trust owed $15.9m to 1194 unsecured creators when the firm was appointed in 2019.

“To date, we have received 247 unsecured creditors’ claims totalling $15.2m.”

All employee preferential entitlements had now been paid in full, it said.

The Inland Revenue Department is still owed pre-liquidation payroll taxes that have preferential status.

“It is unknown the amount of funds that will be available to make payment to unsecured creditors as it is dependent on the sale of the home campus and dairy farm,” the report stated.

Grant Thornton said an agreement with the Universal College of Learning Limited [UCOL] for a short-term lease of the home campus in Taratahi was given ministerial consent on 8 July 2020, but expired on June 30, 2022.

“This short-term lease allowed for the delivery of short courses that equipped workers impacted by covid-19 with the necessary skills to transition into primary industries jobs.

“The initiative proved the campus is fit for purpose and ready to be fully utilised by an education provider.”

Grant Thornton said it was continuing to negotiate a further lease of the home campus, pending further funding from MPI being received by UCOL to cover the delivery of these courses and the long-term lease.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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