Land battle over Ladies Mile

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The brother of a former Prime Minister and a high-profile developer are locked in a fierce legal battle over a multi-million dollar piece of Queenstown land.

Conor English, brother of Sir Bill English, and developer Wayne Foley are grappling over a 10-hectare stretch of Ladies Mile earmarked for the controversial Laurel Hills SHA (special housing area).

The 156-home development was punted into touch by councillors in April, along with two other nearby SHAs, over traffic and transport infra-structure concerns.

In the last few weeks, Laurel Hills Limited, of which Foley is a director and shareholder, has asked the council for permission to instead create a 26-lot subdivision on the land (see right).

The company bought the land last year.

But Foley and English, a former Federated Farmers chief executive and current chairman of Agribusiness New Zealand, are going to the High Court over the purchase.

English claims he and Hong Kong-based businessman Marc Holtzman engaged Foley to submit a $5 million tender on their behalf, or as a joint venture.

High Court documents also show how tension arose when Holtzman backed out of the project.

He was the connection between Foley and English, who didn’t know each other.

Foley’s declining to comment to Mountain Scene, citing the ongoing court proceedings. English couldn’t be reached for comment.

English, in the court documents, claims Holtzman asked Foley to get involved as “a locally-based second opinion of the project”.

“[Holtzman] never asked me for Wayne to be a principal or an investor, rather he wanted his experienced professional advice”.

But English was on a plane to New York on the deadline day for the tender and, following text exchanges between the pair, Foley put in the tender.

Foley claimed Holtzman assured him he was “not interested in pursuing any property deal with Mr English unless it was something that would fit within the relationship between Mr Foley and Mr Holtzman …”

Foley said he understood English would only be involved in the project if Holtzman was as well, as Holtzman was the source of the funding.

But by May 12, Holtzman told Foley he was “not comfortable with the uncertainty around the planning process”, and didn’t want to continue with the deal.

Foley said he was “not interested in being involved in a venture with people he had never met and did not know …”.

Foley applied for a summary judgment on English’s claim, which was declined.

In his decision, Associate Judge Dale Lester says it appears Foley had no interest in the project before being contacted by Holtzman, and that his communications with the pair suggest Foley viewed himself as “securing the option for the benefit of himself and others”.

“In my view, there was arguably a common objective between all three men involved to secure the tender,” Lester says.

Laurel Hills take two

Laurel Hills Limited has applied for resource consent to create 26 residential lots and two balance lots on the site once destined for the Laurel Hills housing development.

Laurel Hills has four directors: Foley, Tim Allan, Shekhar Balasubramaniam, and Fraser Mackenzie. Allan says they’re waiting to see what the council decides on the future of Ladies Mile.

“It’s a holding position for us, we’d rather do a proper, comprehensive development, but we’re going to have to see what the council has to say, how they’re going to get on with that.”

Access to the subdivision will be off Stalker Road. A new 15 metre-wide road is proposed through the development, ending with a cul-de-sac.

– DAISY HUDSON