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Auckland's Statue of Liberty: Giant statue of Papatuanuku the Earth Mother proposed for Bastion Point

15 July 2018

New Zealand's own version of the Statue of Liberty may soon welcome visitors at the entrance to Auckland Harbour.
The structure of Papatuanuku the Earth Mother, proposed by Ngati Whatua Orakei and part-funded by Auckland Council, would stand 30 to 50 metres tall on the historic headland of Takaparawhau/Bastion Point.

That would make it as big as, if not bigger than, the New York icon, which is 46m.

The iwi has conceived it as Auckland's version of the Statue of Liberty or the 30m Christ the Redeemer above Rio de Janeiro, visible in lights at night from across the city, with stunning views from downtown, the North Shore, and from ships and ferries.

Mayor Phil Goff said it "has the potential to be an iconic symbol of Auckland".

"It will reflect the unique culture and identity of our city and be enjoyed equally by Maori, the wider community and international visitors," he said.

Auckland Council has approved $1 million in its 10-year budget for initial design and development of the proposed structure or "pou" - $100,000 for design in the current financial year and a further $900,000 for initial development next year.

"It is anticipated that council funding will be supported by other funding contributions," the council said.
Ngati Whatua Orakei Trust chairwoman Marama Royal said "conceptual designs" were still being considered.

"While there is still a consultation process to go through and a more detailed concept to be developed, Ngati Whatua Orakei supports the idea of having a culturally significant icon in Tamaki Makaurau that will be recognised across the world," she said.

Air New Zealand partners with JetBlue Technology Ventures in Silicon Valley

12 July 2018

Air New Zealand has entered a partnership with the innovation arm of United States airline JetBlue Airways that has already invested in flying cars and electric planes.

The airlines announced an international innovation partnership around JetBlue Technology Ventures (JTV), the venture capital subsidiary of JetBlue Airways, a Silicon-Valley-based company, which incubates, invests in, and partners with early-stage start-ups.

Among JetBlue Technology's existing moves has been an investment in Joby Aviation, a startup that's developed an electric-powered short hop vertical takeoff taxi and Zunum Aero, a US company that's developing a hybrid battery powered plane capable of flying up to 12 passengers more than 1000km by 2022.

Air New Zealand says the partnership with JTV gives it access to emerging technologies and an entrance into the Silicon Valley innovation environment.

''Together the two companies, along with future partners, will build a network to better address changes coming to the travel industry as well as improve efficiencies within the existing infrastructure,'' the airlines said.

Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon said his airline had a proud history of product innovation and the new deal was part of the aim of redefining air travel.

New Zealand passport power

11 July 2018

New Zealand's global ranking of ''passport power'' shows where Kiwis can enjoy visa-free or visa-on-arrival access.

The Henley Passport Index shows that the number of countries New Zealanders can enter visa-free has increased in the last year.

New Zealand has visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 182 destinations, up from 172 last year.

The index is based on data from the International Air Transport Association.Among more than 40 countries where Kiwi passport holders need visas are China (if staying longer than visa-waiver periods) Vietnam and Russia.

Passports on the index that access the fewest countries are from Afghanistan and Iraq - just 30 countries - and rank 102 on the list.

The so-called hermit state, North Korea, is ranked 94th with visa-free access to 43 destinations, up from 40 last year.

Revealed: Auckland's new waterfront plans for America's Cup

9 June 2018

When the horn sounds for the America's Cup in 2021, the Auckland waterfront will be sporting a new, jazzed-up look.

Aucklanders will notice a big difference along the waterfront from Britomart to Wynyard Quarter.

The Cup village will be dressed up around Hobson Wharf, the Viaduct Events Centre - the home to Team New Zealand - and on Wynyard Point, where there will be a pit row of challenging teams. More than 80 superyachts will be moored up.

It will be the most inclusive America's Cup event ever, says Team New Zealand, with a large area set aside at its own base for the public, and sites for fans to be part of the action on and off the water.

Between them, Auckland Council and the Government are spending $212 million on construction and running costs for the Cup - $114m from taxpayers and $98.5m from ratepayers.

On top of this, the council is pouring $55m of new money and bringing forward $53m of expenditure on a raft of projects to spruce up the waterfront for the Cup and Apec conference in 2021.

As well as this is Commercial Bay at the bottom of Queen Street. Costing $940m , this downtown shopping centre (with 120 shops) and 39-level office tower will feature a laneway open 24 hours a day, H&M flagship store, stalls offering $5 noodle meals alongside offerings from celebrity chefs and a branch of New York restaurant Saxon + Parole.

Migrant numbers bolstering demand for property

21 May 2018

The number of immigrants to New Zealand is still relatively high and bolstering demand for residential property but showed annual net migration was slowing.

Annual net migration was at 67,000 in the year to April, from 71,900 in the year to April 2017, Statistics New Zealand said.

Some 98,300 non-New Zealanders arrived in the April year, up from 97,800 the year before, offset by a lift in the number of non-New Zealanders leaving to 30,200 from 24,500, leading to overall net immigration of non-New Zealanders of 68,100. A net 1,100 Kiwis left in the latest year.

New Zealand has been experiencing record levels of net migration in recent years, which made rising immigration a key election issue as it strains the country's infrastructure and is blamed for inflating property markets.

Increasing numbers of migrants came on work visas in the latest year, up 5.4 percent to 46,400 from the previous year to April, with residence visa numbers down 14 percent to 14,300 and student visas dropping 0.6 percent to 23,700.

China continued to be the biggest source of migrants on residence visas, though that dipped 20 percent to 2,800 in the year, while the United Kingdom remained the biggest source of work-visa migrants, up 0.4 percent to 7,400.

Rebuilding Commercial Bay bringing new life to the city

May 2018

When it opens for business next year, Commercial Bay will be Auckland's largest mixed use development.

By the time the first phase of the project completes, there will be a 39,000sq m office tower and 18,000sq m of retail. It will change the face of the central city.

Yet developer Scott Pritchard says its impact will be wider than reviving the area where Queen St meets the waterfront.

Pritchard is the chief executive officer of Precinct Properties. He says: "Commercial Bay is a response in a New Zealand context to what we've seen in gateway cities around the world. Retail is changing. Major retail brands want to position their flagship stores in the city centre. For them, it is a challenge finding the right location. Auckland has never had such a concentration of top retailers in one location."

Creating that concentration meant seizing an opportunity that won't come again.

It's unusual for a single developer to acquire this much land in an important central position in Auckland.
Pritchard says it doesn't happen often anywhere in the world.

"We have investors that have exposure to all sorts of real estate companies. To have someone who owns a couple of city centre blocks that are right on the waterfront and on the main street is rare. To be able to knit a number of high rise buildings together along with a retail centre at the base and to provide car parking and seamless links to the rest of the city is also unique.

"We have been able to design this in concert with some major infrastructure, that's the City Rail Link which is under construction as well. Introducing accessibility and public transport to the centre has been a major bonus.

Architect Blair Johnston leads the Warren and Mahoney team working on the development. He describes Commercial Bay as "tremendously ambitious".

He says: "It is a true mixed-use project. It brings together commercial, retail and transport in the first stage and will later include a new city centre hotel. We don't often see this intensity of land use. The power of such intensity is that all the different uses will support each other."

Johnston views the retail component as being something not seen before anywhere else in New Zealand - and something that probably won't be.

NZ Super Fund wants to own and operate two of Auckland's light rail projects

9 May 2018

Work is about to start in Auckland on two light rail lines, not one - and the New Zealand Superannuation Fund wants to build, own and operate both of them.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Finance Minister Grant Robertson made the surprise announcement today. The ministers said Cabinet has agreed that work should start on both lines straight away, with an open tender process for the funding, construction and operation of the lines.

One light rail line will run from the central city to Mangere and the airport.

The City to Mangere light rail line will run from Wynyard Quarter, up Queen Street, across to Dominion Rd and down to Mt Roskill, then to Onehunga and across the Manukau harbour to Mangere, on through the industrial airport zone to a terminal at the airport.

It will be a commuter line connecting the 55,000 households already located on the route with the city's two-fastest growing employment centres - the city centre and the airport precinct. Tens of thousands more homes will be built along the route in the coming decades.

The line will also provide a frequent and reliable public transport link for airline passengers.

The second light rail line will be a northwest line, running from the central city in parallel with the Northwest Motorway to Westgate and eventually to Kumeu.

The northwestern line is also a commuter route, linking the central city to existing suburbs like Te Atatu and the fast-growing new suburbs of the outer northwest, including West Harbour and Hobsonville. In time the route will be extended to Kumeu and perhaps Waimauku.

This line is expected to follow the route of the Northwest Motorway, in a similar way to the Northern Busway on the Northern Motorway.

Both light rail lines should be in use well within the next 10 years.

Unemployment rate drops to lowest in nearly a decade

2 May 2018

The strong labour market has delivered another drop in the rate of unemployment from 4.5% - to 4.4%.

This takes those without jobs back to the same level as nearly a decade ago in the boom leading up to the global financial crisis in late 2008.

As unemployment figures dropped to near decade lows, employment growth in this March quarter rose 0.1%.

The unemployment rate for men fell to 3.9% whilst women fell to 4.9%.

New Zealand based Ohmio Automotion inks 150 unit autonomous shuttle deal

28 April 2018

New Zealand autonomous vehicle developer Ohmio Automotion may just have scored the largest deal for autonomous shuttle vehicles in the world.

Ohmio inked an agreement to supply 150 shuttles to Korean company Southwest Coast Enterprise City Development (SolaSeaDo) in Seoul, South Korea, today.

However, the agreement is dependent on SolaSeaDo securing a deal to build a large scale smart city in Korea. SolaSeaDo is in the advanced stages of securing that contract and will know later this year if it has been successful.

The shuttle agreement was signed by Mohammed Hikmet, the founder of Ohmio parent company HMI Group, and SolaSeaDo president Yoon Jin Bo.

“This is a significant development for Ohmio and a major vote of confidence in what we have developed," Hikmet said.

The Ohmio LIFT is a 20-person autonomous shuttle that can be extended to carry up to 40-passengers (the Ohmio LIFT XT1) and operates on pre-determined routes without a driver. The offering will provide services similar to a tram, but with "virtual rails" and guided by a range of electronic systems.

Dean Zabrieszach, CEO of HMI Technologies, said he was not aware of any other commitment to deploy as many vehicles.

"We think this is the largest single deployment of autonomous shuttles in the world,” he said, adding that SolaSeado was "very confident" about that outcome of the smart city negotiations.

Ohmio has been developed by HMI in Pakuranga, Auckland, launching the first demonstration in Christchurch last September, using prototype vehicles to showcase the automated shuttles and the robotic technologies underpinning them.

“These first vehicles were to show we had developed the know-how to build an autonomous vehicle," Hikmet said.

"Since then we have been developing the Ohmio LIFT, a vehicle that we expect will be used in a range of environments such as airports, business parks and central city areas."

Ohmio's first sale was to Christchurch International Airport in March.

Having recently met with potential investors and customers in Asia and North America, Hikmet said there was a lot of international interest in Ohmio.

And Australia's most loved brand is... Air New Zealand

19 April 2018

For the second consecutive year, Air New Zealand has maintained its coveted spot as the number one most reputable company - in Australia.

In the latest Corporate Reputation Index from Australia's Reputation Institute, the New Zealand airline beat Qantas and Virgin Australia, which came in third and fourth respectively.

Air New Zealand also trumped well-known major corporates such as Toyota, Apple and Nestle.

The national carrier's general manager for Australia, Kathryn Robertson, said Air New Zealand was determined to be Australia's airline of choice.

"From our artificial intelligence powered chatbot Oscar, who helps thousands of Australian customers get answers to their questions, through to our $100 million lounge investment programme ... Air New Zealand is focused on offering Australians a better way to fly across the Tasman and beyond," Robertson said.
"We're thrilled to continue to be held in such high regard."

Earlier this month Air New Zealand announced an increased Tasman schedule. From the end of October, Air New Zealand will offer 15 per cent more seats across the Tasman year on year, including two new routes from December.

New electric buses on Auckland's City Link service next week

13 April 2018

Two electric buses will run on the City Link service in Auckland from next week, only weeks after the city's first full battery-powered bus hit the road servicing AUT's Northcote and Manukau campuses.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter launched the City Link buses today in a joint project between the Government's Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) and Auckland Transport (AT).

EECA is also involved with AUT and bus company Tranzit Group in the 35-seater bus transporting hundreds of students a day.

Goff said compared to diesel buses, the new e-buses will be cleaner, quieter and provide passengers with a better experience.

"Auckland is serious about leading the response to climate change in New Zealand and internationally. Transport contributes over a third of greenhouse gas emissions in Auckland and this trial supports our efforts to lower emissions in our city.

"Last year I pledged with mayors from around the world to work towards making our streets fossil-fuel free. As part of the declaration I committed Auckland to procure only zero-emission buses by 2025. Today marks a positive step towards achieving that goal," Goff said.

Genter said electric buses are great news for people working, visiting, and living in the city. They're better for the climate, they're quieter, and keep the air we breathe clean, she said..

"It's great to see trials like this, which will help local and central government learn and plan for large scale deployment of zero emissions buses."

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff cut the ribbon on the city's first two electric commuter buses. Photo / Auckland Transport.
Auckland Transport Chief Executive Shane Ellison said the two buses will help AT develop a Zero Emission Bus Roadmap for Auckland.

"These buses will help us accurately estimate whether electric buses meet the needs of our customers, what routes they can operate on and, of course, whether they're commercially viable.

"In January, we replaced some of our fleet vehicles with electric cars. These 20 cars are performing well and are just the beginning of the change to EVs for Auckland Transport," Ellison said.

The supplier of the buses is Alexander Dennis/BYD.

ADL New Zealand general manager Tony Moore said the buses for the trial are based on the Transport for London e-buses.
"We are working with progressive transport authorities, cities and enlightened political leaders around the world to introduce, emission-free transport solutions.

"The mayor has made it clear that Auckland intends to lead the way in the drive towards a greener, cleaner environment and the introduction of these buses is important in that journey."

Auckland Transport was awarded $500,000 from the EECA Low Emission Vehicles Contestable Fund towards one of the buses and charging infrastructure. Auckland Transport's contribution towards the cost of the buses is $1.21m.
EECA is also funding the installation of 60 EV charging stations at Auckland Transport parking facilities.

Immigration restrictions fail to dampen numbers as NZ hits record net migration gains

29 March 2018

An unprecedented increase in arrivals of foreign nationals last year has given New Zealand its highest net gain ever recorded, despite the Government's efforts to restrict immigration numbers.

New Zealand had a net gain of 72,300 permanent and long-term migrants in 2016/17 or 4.7 per cent more than the previous year, according to the annual Migration Trends report released today.

It was also the seventh year-on-year increase for work visas - with 152,432 temporary workers in the country on 30 June last year or 16 per cent higher than the year before.

But the number of new international students had dropped 3 per cent, bringing the total number of student visa holders to 75,578, or 1 per cent lower than the same period last year.

There was a growth of 34 per cent in study to work visas, 17 per cent in essential skills visas, 12 per cent in family work visas and 8 per cent in working holiday scheme visas.

New work visa approvals were 8 per cent higher than the year before.

The high number of work visas reflected growing issues of labour supply and a reliance on immigrant labour in some industries. These temporary workers are important for two reasons, they fill key labour shortages and they provide a pool from which permanent residents come.

Migration Trends 2016/17:

  • Net inward migration gain 72,300 (up 4.7 per cent)
  • New student visa approval 75,578 (down 1 per cent)
  • Temporary work visa holders in NZ 152,432 (up 16 per cent)
  • Permanent residence approval 47,684 (down 8 per cent)

Tourism spend in Auckland up

21 March 2018

The latest Monthly Regional Tourism Estimates released by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) show that tourism spend for Auckland is estimated to be $8.3 billion for the year to January 2018, up eight per cent compared with the year to January 2017.

MBIE Manager of Sector Trends Mark Gordon says that of this tourism spend in the year to January 2018, international visitors spent $4.3 billion (up 10 per cent compared with the year to January 2017), and domestic tourists spent $3.9 billion (up six per cent) in that period.

"When it comes to the monthly expenditure, tourism spend in Auckland for the month of January 2018 is up 12 per cent compared with the month of January 2017," says Mr Gordon.

Guest nights hits record in January as visitors flock to hotels and holiday parks

12 March 2018

New Zealand guest nights hit a record in January, rising 1.4 percent on the year with hotels and holiday parks in high demand.

Total guest nights increased to 4.97 million in January from 4.9 million a year earlier, Statistics New Zealand said. Of that, international guest nights rose 3.1 percent to 2.2 million, outpacing a 0.2 percent gain in domestic accommodation stays to 2.9 million.

Stats NZ said January is typically the height of the peak season for many accommodation operators and usually the time when records are set.

"International guest nights also reached their highest-ever level in January, even as international visitor arrivals dipped slightly in the month," accommodation statistics manager Melissa McKenzie said. "This may be because some people who arrived in 2017 stayed on in January."

New Zealand has been enjoying a booming tourism sector in recent years as low airfares made it easier for visitors to travel to the remote South Pacific destination and the weakening kiwi dollar has added to the nation's allure.

The occupancy rate across accommodation types lifted to 58.7 percent in January versus 57.2 percent a year earlier.
The figures show hotel guest nights rose 6 percent to 1.39 million in January from a year earlier, with international stays up 4.9 percent to 736,000 and domestic stays up 7.2 percent to 652,000.

Hotel occupancy was 74.4 percent in the month, compared to 72.2 percent a year earlier.

Biggest knuckle boom crane in southern hemisphere arrives in Christchurch

9 March 2018

The only crane of its type in the southern hemisphere has arrived in Christchurch to become part of the New Zealand construction scene.

The $1 million machine is the largest knuckle boom crane produced by Palfinger with a 50-metre reach and able to work in confined spaces.

The owner of Hire Frankton, Ross McFaul the $1million crane is the largest knuckle boom crane in New Zealand
He said the crane was highly versatile and easy to set up for its size and reach.

"We can set up on the side of the road or in narrow spaces between buildings with no disruption to traffic, or elaborate traffic management plans.

"I could park this crane on the goal line of a rugby field and it could pick up a 500 kilgramme weight on the half way line with the boom parallel to the ground. That how much reach it has," McFaul said.

The crane's extension boom and fly-jib have a reverse linkage system that can reach through low door openings and work inside a building.

The boom can even pass right through a building to operate on the other side.

The machine is officially called a PK200002L SH, but McFaul calls it "Jock", and is operated with a remote control system.

All the safety features can be monitored from the remote control, he said.

The crane was built in Austria at Palfinger where it was fitted and tested.

McFaul said getting Jock onto the roads because of concerns about its size, and he thanked staff at the New Zealand Transport Agency.

Initially the crane will be based in Christchurch for rebuild construction, maintenance and repairs, installation of new plant, and possibly wind farm blade repair work.

Some of the first work has been carried out at the University of Canterbury.

New York Times shines a light on 'laid-back' Auckland's sophistication

9 March 2018

Auckland's laid-back feel and sophistication are outlined for readers of the New York Times, one of the world's most influential news titles.

In the publication's 36 hours slot - "What to do when you've got 36 hours to get to know a city" - travel writer Elaine Glusac samples slices of the city's life and its treats.

She liked what she found.

"The New Zealand city is laid-back and outdoorsy, but its sophistication shines in its expanding art scene, thriving fashion industry and a new generation of chefs embracing native ingredients."

But in an article devoted mainly to Auckland's natural treasures, cultural and commercial attractions, and good coffee, Glusac finds space to join the city's inhabitants in moaning about the traffic.

She declares: "Close to one-third of New Zealand's estimated 4.5 million population lives in Auckland, a geographically blessed - and traffic cursed - city spread over at least 50 volcanic cones on a North Island neck of land between two large harbours."

Glusac's 36 hours took her on a swing through the Auckland Art Gallery and the Auckland Museum, along Karangahape Rd, the city's "counter cultural side", an America's Cup sailing experience, part of the Coast to Coast walkway, Britomart, Wynyard Quarter and Waiheke Island.

Impressed by the museum, she wondered at its full name.

"Devoted to the story of New Zealand from geology to politics, the Auckland War Memorial Museum holds treasures obscured by its title, namely the vast collection of indigenous Maori art works and crafts."

For sustenance, Glusac delighted in an "edible landscape" at one restaurant, Pasture, whose offerings included smoked quince and butter aged "so it tastes like Camembert", and in the "unusual dishes" such as spicy peanut butter and carrot kimchi on toast at Orphans Kitchen.

"Coffee-crazed New Zealand is a country where you can find a barista at a rural gas station. Espresso bars seem stationed on every corner in Auckland."

The co-owner of Pasture, Laura Verner, said it was a nice surprise to be featured in the Times and she hoped it would be good for business.

"I had no idea Elaine was from the New York Times. We found out months afterwards when she wrote to us to clarify details."

Verner said Pasture, which opened in August 2016, had hosted many foreign visitors. It had a strong international following, having featured in overseas publications and through social media.

What lies beneath: Auckland City Rail Link plans unveiled

3 March 2018

Three new stations will be built for Auckland's underground rail line, the City Rail Link.

You cross the threshold. You arrive at the entrance to the station, step inside and find yourself in a great public entrance to a hall of sound and light; the station itself will be the third and deepest on Auckland's new underground rail line.

In another of the stations, there are multiple entrances. In this other station the ceiling also provides a sculptural form that defines the space, this time, with hundreds of rods, some wooden, hollowed, cut to different lengths so that you're walking beneath a shimmering, undulating blanket.

The station in the heart of the central city, has the access point for two universities, the midtown workplaces and the arts and entertainment precinct of Aotea.

The light will change, by day appearing as if seen through the raupo in the stream; by night, a constellation of stars - sculptural possibilities in a constant state of renewal.

The rods represent the upward growth of crops, and also a great population and an abundance of wealth. Many will be notched, the light on the notches creating a pattern that simulates the flow of water to the sea. There's a lot going on in that ceiling.

For all the wonder of those two large stations, it's the third, the smallest of the three that is the most surprising.
Mt Eden is currently an anonymous nothing space, a kitset suburban station, blandly conceived for functionality and security.

The new design rethinks all that.

"The threshold begins," says the official blurb, "with an open civic space that radiates out from the station." It's a community space, a performance space, a forecourt that holds the people in it as if in the palm of a hand. As you enter the building itself you discover a space defined not by its ceiling but by a wall of carved basalt, curved in form, layered with taniwha, shimmering with water running down its face.

If the city is in transit itself, changing the way it works, railway stations can help. That's what Auckland is doing, or going to be doing: unclogging the roads, confronting climate change, embracing the multitude of meanings of community. Stepping over those CRL thresholds will be a part of it.

In the 19th century they built great railway stations all through Europe and America: glass and wrought-iron masterpieces that celebrated the marriage of technology, art and personal aspiration for all. It wasn't done by accident.

The creators of the undergrounds of London, Moscow, Paris and elsewhere art to create lovely public spaces specific to their location. The Paris Metro is lovely in the same way the London Tube is lovely, but they do not look like each other. What they share is a commitment to what designers call a sense of place. That's what the designers of the CRL stations have done.

Simon Bridges emerges as next National Party leader, Paula Bennett his deputy

27 February 2018

Simon Bridges has emerged victorious from a caucus vote to decide the next leader of the National Party.

Paula Bennett was elected deputy leader in a process that saw two rounds of voting for both. Bridges cited "caucus confidentiality" in refusing to reveal who ran against Bennett for deputy, but sources have confirmed it was Judith Collins.

Speaking at a press conference after the vote, Bridges said of his leadership "Yes, we'll hold the Government to account and in that regard we'll be firm but fair," he said.

National would support the policies it saw as taking the country forward, while opposing those it thought were regressive or "treading water".

"We'll also be an alternative Government in waiting", but he would not be laying out a full suite of new policies immediately, he said. "New Zealand deserves better than a Government that is just muddling along."

Bridges signalled a greater emphasis on the environment, and has previously pointed towards the potential for working with the Greens as a coalition partner after the 2020 election.

"Over time, we will continue to develop positive policies for our economy, as well as education, health and law and order."

National's newly elected leader says his party will be an alternative government in waiting.

Tractors cut a path to record trade

27 February 2018

For the year ended January 2018, the value of tractor imports was up 51 per cent compared with the previous year.

In a sign of growing confidence within the agricultural sector a big jump in tractor imports and other farming supplies has helped boost total trade activity to record levels in January.

Goods exports were a record $4.31 billion for a January month, up 9.5 per cent on last year, while imports surged 17 per cent to a new high of $4.88b for that month.

Imports of mechanical machinery and equipment jumped 23 per cent to $700m, elevating it to the largest import commodity group for the month.

Stats NZ noted a strong lift in agricultural imports with the value of imported tractors rising $27m - or 191 per cent - in January from the same month last year.

For the year ended January 2018, the value of tractor imports was up 51 per cent compared with the previous year.

The lift in imports of agricultural machinery did fit with a picture of improving confidence in the sector, said ASB rural economist Nathan Penny.

"The stars are aligning across the agriculture sector in general," he said. "We are seeing pretty good prices for most of the sectors within agriculture."

The rise in exports was led by milk powder, butter, and cheese, the country's largest commodity export, which increased 8 per cent to $1.37b.

The value of meat and edible offal exports jumped 17 per cent to $689m, while exports of logs, wood and wood articles surged 26 per cent to $292m. Fruit exports fell 12 per cent to $85m.

NZ ranked least corrupt country, again

22 February 2018

This is the third year in a row New Zealand has been named the least corrupt country by the index.

New Zealand has once again been rated the least corrupt country but Open Government Minister Clare Curran warns there's still more work to be done.

On Thursday, Transparency International released its latest Corruption Perceptions Index. New Zealand took out the top spot, ahead of 179 countries.

This is the third year in a row New Zealand has been named the least corrupt country by the index.

New Zealand was ranked in the top spot. Previous years was in 2016, and 9.

In 2016, Denmark tied with New Zealand for the top spot, it has now dropped slightly behind to the second least corrupt country in the world, with a rating of 88.

Australia ranked 13, with a score of 77 out of 100. Canada and the UK ranked eighth equal.

Auckland welcomes the Volvo Ocean race

21 February 2018

The Volvo Ocean Race sails into Auckland this week bringing with it all the glamour and frivolities one would expect of a competition of such prestige.

Right now, the six yachts – carrying nine Kiwi sailors, including America’s Cup heroes Blair Tuke and Peter Burling - are duelling down through the Pacific, from Hong Kong in a race for home town honours and the bragging rights of leading the fleet into Auckland for the 23 day stopover.

Burling and Tuke, who took New Zealand to America’s Cup victory in Bermuda in 2017, are pitted against one another on separate boats and due to arrive in Auckland around 27th February.

Peter Burling who is sailing with Team Brunel has watched previous Volvo Ocean Race fleets come into Auckland says the arrival into Auckland will be one of the highlights of the epic nine-month race.

“It’s going be pretty cool to be part of Team Brunel this time. I’m looking forward to seeing all the people on the docks when we sail in to Auckland and I hope they will cheer for us,” says Burling.

Tuke who is sailing with Mapfre says the Auckland leg is one he has been looking forward to.

“I have not been home since late September. To sail into New Zealand will be pretty special for myself and all the Kiwis on the different boats.”

Won by Sir Peter Blake in 1990, Grant Dalton in 1994, and Mike Sanderson in 2006, the Volvo Ocean Race (formerly known as the Whitbread Around the World Race) is inextricably linked to New Zealand sailing, with Kiwi sailors on every one of the six internationally sponsored boats.

In this edition, Burling and Tuke face off against the first Kiwi woman competitor in almost two decades, Bianca Cook, sailing on Turn the Tide on Plastic.

Tank farm to go for America's Cup bases at Auckland waterfront

A deal has been struck to free up land on Wynyard Point and pursue the possibility of a new option for the America's Cup bases.

The Government and Auckland Council are pursuing an option that provides for at least seven syndicate bases around two basins in the Wynyard area with provision for restaurants and bars, public viewing, and hospitality areas.

Dutch company Stolthaven Terminals has agreed to vacate its southern tank farm site on Wynyard Point early.

The deal also clears the way for more land-based locations for America's Cup bases and reduced the proposed extension to Halsey Wharf from 75m to 35m.

Economic Development Minister David Parker says the proposal is a win-win for all parties involved. "Our main aim alongside creating a top-class venue for Team New Zealand and the Cup defence in 2021 and, hopefully, beyond," Parker said.

Reducing costs and environmental impact while offering an excellent venue for the Cup defence is the main focus of talks.

Parker said that he was very pleased to have proven that there was an option that has less intrusion into the harbour, gets rid of the tank farm early and is cheaper.

The Government and Auckland Council will continue discussions with Emirates Team New Zealand.

City Rail Link above-ground opportunities identified

19 February 2018

Development opportunities for up to 20ha of new Auckland CBD and fringe city floor space have been identified around the $3.4 billion City Rail Link, as the time to award the tunnelling and station contracts draws near to be approved next month.

A City Rail Link spokesman said between 190,000sq m and 200,000sq m of gross floor area was possible, including offices and housing.

17,600sq m could be built, at the new Aotea station near Auckland Council 41,000sqm, at Karangahape 320sq m and at Mt Eden 5000sq m.

Big Street Bikers planning electric charging stations across Auckland

16 February 2018

Matt Weavers and his company Big Street Bikers are on a mission to convert Auckland commuters from four wheels to two.

The electric bike company has partnered with energy company Mercury to develop a public, solar-powered electric bike recharging station in the Viaduct, with plans to roll out smaller versions across the city this year.

The pilot scheme will run until the end of summer when Weavers hopes to set up the next recharging stations, which will support Auckland Transport's connected bike network plans.

Weavers says planning a point-to-point recharging system across the city may seem ambitious, but the company is already in talks with a number of major property owners and companies, looking to have re -charger in their apartment buildings or for their workers.

"We are seeing a lot more people using electric bikes and it's a great solution to Auckland's traffic problems," Weavers said.

"Our plan is to have these all around the city and there are a whole lot of investors who are keen to put up some cash which will help us roll it out."

Cycling has been growing in popularity with more than 1,000 new cyclists on the roads every month according to Auckland Transport.

Statistics from the government agency also showed 177,574 cycle trips were recorded in November 2017, up 19.4 per cent on the previous year.

The main issue with electric bikes however was their cost, Weavers said.

"You could easily spend $8,000 on an electric bike so part of what we're doing to alleviate that is selling them on subscription.

"You can put down $250 and then pay off the bike at $30 a week so it's a ride-to-own model and it works out cheaper than the bus," he said.

The company's electric bikes are $2,500 to buy outright but Weavers said electric bikes in general would become cheaper as they became more popular.

Mercury chief marketing officer Julia Jack said the company was excited to partner with Big Street Bikers to encourage Kiwis to use electric bikes.

Plans to transform Cordis, Auckland into NZ's biggest hotel in time for America's Cup, Apec

The Langham Hospitality Group plans to expand its Auckland Cordis hotel to be the biggest in New Zealand by room count.

A new 16-floor tower is scheduled to be opened late in 2020, in time for the America's Cup and Asia Pacific Economic Forum (Apec), two major events scheduled to be held in Auckland the following year.

The hotel is 10 levels at the moment and the expanded building would include a private VIP entrance for a lift to the upper floors.

The new tower will be connected to the existing hotel will house an additional 250 premium rooms and suites, taking the total to 650. The size of the new rooms will start from 32 square metres and the brand new Club Lounge will have panoramic views of the harbour and the central city.

Auckland is suffering a shortage of hotel accommodation, especially at the luxury end, and the Cordis expansion will be welcomed by the tourism sector.

Event space at Cordis, Auckland will also be expanded.

The hotel currently has more than 2000sq m of event space and there are plans to add about 400sq m that will offer natural light and multiple configurations, allowing for more flexibility in hosting events.

Franz Mascarenhas, managing director of Cordis, Auckland said the expansion would meet the increasing demand for business and leisure travellers visiting Auckland as a result of the successful tourism campaigns.

''We also see more families and couples doing stay over long weekends and special occasions.''

Work could begin as early as late this year. He would not disclose the cost of the new development.

Auckland Airport's second runway to be louder and longer

15 February 2018

Auckland Airport wants to extend the consent for its second runway to make it almost 1km longer. The second runway will be built north of the international terminal.

The airport expects the second runway to be operational by 2028, when the current runway will reach capacity.

The project has been on the horizon for years. Consent for a second runway was first approved in 2002, but the airport now intends to build the runway further north and 833 metres longer than what was consented.

Airport spokeswoman Lisa Mulitalo said the extension would further "future-proof" the runway and make it possible for wide-bodied aircraft like the Boeing 787s and Airbus A380.

Passenger numbers are forecast to reach 40 million a year by 2044, up from 19 million last year.

Auckland Airport has set aside $202m for the first five years of the project and wants to raise landing fees to fund it.
While the cost of the new runway has not been finalised, $202 million has been set aside for the first five years.

Aviation consultant Irene King said the new runway provided both economic and employment benefits to the region and would sustain the airport for the next 30 to 50 years after it was built.

Bill English resigns as leader of New Zealand's national opposition party

13 February 2018

English made the announcement at a press conference at Parliament with many MPs standing behind him. His wife Mary and sons were also there.

On September 23 last year, English had also claimed the result gave him a "moral authority" to have first go at forming a government.

That result of 46 per cent (58 seats) later shrank to 44 per cent (56 seats) but National was still ahead of Labour and the Greens' combined tally - albeit by just two seats.

The result followed a gruelling campaign as English, 55, tried to counter what he described as the "stardust" of Labour leader Jacinda Ardern by pushing his own record of strength and stability and hammering at the uncertainty around Labour's tax policy.

English rebuilt his famous financial reputation internationally as well as being New Zealand's Finance Minister and deputy to Key in the National Governments from 2008 to 2017.

English was handed the prime minister's job when PM John Key resigned telling National's caucus English had the greatest chance of returning National for a fourth term.

English's fame was enhanced by his skill and leadership through the global financial crash and three major national disasters handled with a quite calmness and assurance that became his inimitably trademark style.

While Key had lent National his brand of pragmatism and "compassionate conservatism" from 1999 to 2008, much of that was work engineered by English especially in the "social investment" model.

Labour administration has inherited a booming economy

13 February 2018

New Zealand snared $600m more tax than expected in the second half of 2017, according to statements released by Treasury today.

This includes a slightly larger than expected operating surplus of $1.1 billion for the last six months of 2017.

This was more than three times the $311 million surplus predicted and up from a wafer-thin $9 million surplus a year earlier, the latest government accounts show.

When combined with higher than expected Crown entity results, the surplus was $800 million more than forecast, Treasury said on Tuesday.

Core Crown tax revenue was $37.2 billion for the six-month period and was $597 million ahead of forecast, due largely to source deductions tracking $300 million ahead of expectations and GST $200 million ahead. Treasury officials said they expect some of those gains to remain through to the end of the financial year on June 30.

Overall core Crown tax was $600m higher than what was expected in the Government's half-year economic and fiscal update, released in mid-December.

Tax sent straight to IRD was $300m more than expected and the GST take was and $200m more than expected.
Core Crown expenses were $39.6b - slightly higher than the $39.5b forecast.

New Zealand's jobless rate falls to nine-year low

7 February 2018

The unemployment rate dropped to 4.5 per cent in the three months ended December 31.

New Zealand's jobless rate fell to a fresh nine-year low in the December quarter.

The unemployment rate dropped to 4.5 per cent in the three months ended December 31 down from 4.6 per cent in September, Statistics New Zealand said in its household labour force survey.

That's the lowest level since the December 2008 quarter and below the 4.7 per cent forecast in a Bloomberg poll of 12 economists.

Employment rose 0.5 per cent in the quarter to 2.61 million and was 3.7 per cent higher than a year earlier. Economists had expected a 0.4 per cent quarterly gain.

Regarding wage inflation, Stats NZ's said private sector wage inflation rose 0.4 per cent in the quarter for a 1.9 per cent annual increase.

Public sector wage inflation was up 0.5 per cent in the quarter for a 1.5 per cent annual gain, and across both sectors, wage inflation rose a quarterly 0.4 per cent and an annual 1.8 per cent. In September it lifted an annual 1.9 per cent.

Dairy prices jump 5.9% at Global Dairy Trade auction

7 February 2018

New Zealand economists gauge as a barometer the Global Trade Auction price index as a major indicator of the country's well being.

So a jump of 5.9% and its economically trickle down affect for the nation is greeted by economists from relief to back slapping enthusiasm.

Dry weather during much of summer was expected to make its presence felt at the auction, due to diminished milk supply.

Fonterra has said that it expects production to fall by 3 per cent over this season, compared with last, due to drought in parts of the country.

Lingering doubts about New Zealand supply conditions helped drive dairy prices sharply higher at this morning's GlobalDairyTrade auction, with the GDT price index gaining 5.9 per cent since the last sale in mid-January.

Fonterra has said that it expects production to fall by 3 per cent over this season, compared with last, due to drought in parts of the country.

ANZ rural economist Con Williams said the gains so far this year in GDT prices would bring year-to-date milk price indicators back in line with Fonterra's $6.40/kg milksolids forecast.

"The improvement was driven by lingering New Zealand supply concerns and more price sensitive buyers filling the Chinese post New Year void," he said in a commentary.

"Price sensitive buyers have also been aided by a lower US dollar at recent auctions," he said. Williams said supply developments in New Zealand would remain important.

ASB Bank rural economist Nathan Penny said today's strength reinforced the banks' more optimistic 2017/18 milk price forecast of $6.50/kg.

"On the production side, we expect the improved weather will lead to production growth of 1 per cent compared to last season," he said.

First shipment ever of NZ avocados arrives in China

7 February 2018

Horticulture has been on a steep growth trajectory in recent years, driven mostly by a strong performance from the kiwifruit and apple export sectors.

Now the first air freighted consignment of fresh New Zealand avocados has landed in China, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) said.

The shipment follows agreement and signing of a protocol on phyto sanitary requirements between New Zealand and China last November, and a technical audit of New Zealand's regulatory system for exporting avocados by Chinese officials in January.

MPI director-general Martyn Dunne said securing export access for avocados into China had been a top priority for the horticulture industry.

"Granting of avocado access is the culmination of substantial work and negotiation over a number of years between New Zealand and China, and we're excited to reach this milestone," he said.

New Zealand's avocado exports have boomed in recent years.

In 2016/17, New Zealand exported $155.5 million of avocados into markets including Australia, Japan, Singapore, Korea and Thailand - an increase of about $64m from the previous season.

New Zealand will compete for shelf space in China with fruit from Mexico, Peru and Chile - the only other countries currently benefiting from market access.

Net migration to New Zealand to the end of 2017 still above 70,000

Annual net migration to New Zealand from all countries was at 70,600 in the 12 months to December, from 71,200 in 2016.

The figures, released by Statistics New Zealand yesterday, show a net 71,100 non-citizens arrived in the year, while a net 1000 New Zealanders left.

Stats NZ's figures, as the FT points out, show that 3614 people migrated from the United Kingdom in 2015 - the year before the country voted to leave the European Union.

In the 2016 calendar year migration from Britain jumped to 5588 and in 2017 it reached 6371.

USA migration to New Zealand is up from 1286 in 2016.

Newmarket mall shuts this week for $655m rebuild

Westfield Newmarket, in the area where shoppers spend nearly $9 billion annually, closes this week ready for a $655 million redevelopment.

Scentre Group said its last day of trading would be this Thursday, the mall would be shut from Friday and it promoted sales in stores.

Scentre acknowledged its presence in the suburb, saying it got 5 million annual customers visits to the 31,592sq m Westfield Newmarket which made $148.3m total annual retail sales.

"The centre is the largest retail complex in Newmarket and caters to a trade area population of almost 534,000 residents," Scentre says.

Its owns 309 Broadway - across Mortimer Pass from the mall - as well as the mall at 277 Broadway. That takes up an entire city block.

"Spread across two sites, a major redevelopment of the buildings and land holding at 309 property s commenced '' the centre says.

The total retail spend by the Westfield Newmarket total trade area was estimated at $8.9 billion.

Retailers in Newmarket outside the mall fear 277's loss, with its 1,244 car parks, Countdown supermarket and 112 specialist stores.

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