Trust Tairawhiti buys back Gisborne's Far East sawmill
Dozens of workers at Gisborne's Far East sawmill have been given a temporary lifeline, after Trust Tairawhiti stepped in to buy back the mill.
The community trust took ownership of the mill through a confidential commercial agreement in order to retain the existing workforce, after its owner made the decision to close the mill.
“Prime SPV, a subsidiary of Trust Tairawhiti, reacquired the sawmill plant and buildings at their wood cluster centre of excellence site from Far East Sawmills, to ensure the region remained in control of the assets and to help facilitate an orderly transition to new operators,” Trust Tairawhiti chief executive Gavin Murphy said.
“Far East had faced difficult trading conditions for some time, as experienced by other sawmill operators around the country. As sawmills were not deemed an “essential service” under the current Covid-19 restrictions, the sawmill ceased cutting logs in the week prior to the Level 4 lock down. Far East have been able to facilitate the government wage subsidy for their staff for a period of time. However, these staff face an uncertain future after this support runs out.
“Trust Tairawhiti is working hard to secure a replacement operator, so this skilled team can stay together as a workforce and get back to work.
“The sawmill is an important asset for the region's wood processing aspirations, that aim to diversity log supply options and markets. The Trust considers that the close proximity of the mill to a large supply of prune logs on the East Coast makes it a viable business going forward.”
WET Gisborne Ltd, which also operates at the Gisborne Wood Processing Centre of Excellence site at Matawhero is unaffected by the closure and will continue to operate when a change in the Covid-19 alert level allows.
Trust Tairawhiti had already spent more than $17m on buying the sawmill site and other investments at the site, which is now a regional wood processing centre of excellence.
In September 2015, ECT approved the $7.4 million purchase of the Prime Sawmill. In February 2018 it announced that the mill and its buildings, had been sold to Far East Sawmills, with the trust retaining ownership of the 22ha site.
Far East Sawmills was a subsidiary of Spectrum, a fully integrated forest products business, which owns the Tregoweth Sawmill at Te Kuiti, forests in Northland, a forestry harvest company and a transport fleet.
Mr Murphy said the trust would retain a 10 percent stake in Spectrum, which was secured as part of putting additional funds into the sawmill last year.
The Far East sawmill employed staff to produce about 60,000 cubic metres of timber a year.
In 2018, the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) invested $500,000 to help recommission the mill, with the expectation of establishing a workforce of about 50. The total cost to recommission the mill was more than $3.6 million, with the rest of the funding coming from the Eastland Community Trust and the Far East Sawmills Limited.
Since then the Government has confirmed $20m of support, through the PGF, for establishing a wood centre of excellence at the site. Then on March 20, with the Covid-19 crisis having already made its presence felt in the forestry sector, the Government announced a $12.1m loan to further support the venture.
Mr Murphy said the trust was still committed “at this stage” to retaining the asset as a mill and was in talks with two parties about that.
“We are working with Far East and the government wage subsidy to keep the workforce together as we try to transition, that's what we are focused on.