Caughey Preston Remuera property buyers of former rest home site revealed

Migrants from China who donated to victims of the Canterbury earthquakes and the National Party have emerged as buyers of a landmark Remuera property.

The couple who have bought the 3.1ha Caughey Preston rest home are also acquaintances of National Party president Peter Goodfellow, who laid the foundation stone for their commercial building in China – New Zealand Tower.

Property records show New Zealand-registered company HND Upland bought the now vacant rest home a block down from Remuera Rd, with wide access off Ventnor Rd.

The Bank of China has a mortgage registered over that prime real estate, the title shows.

The transfer occurred last October and the vendor was the Marianne Caughey Smith-Preston Memorial Rest Homes Trust Board.

HND Upland’s directors are Yaxun Zhang and Xiaomiao Fan, of Scott Rd, Hobsonville.

They registered their company last April as a land development and subdivision business.

The couple left China some years ago, live at Hobsonville, own other properties here and have shown a benevolent streak, particularly towards National.

The property at 17 Upland Rd has changed hands and the title reveals buyer and funder identities.

In a deal for the site valued at around $90 million, a new business is on the register for the property.

People in the area say they are waiting to see how many apartments might go on the huge site, once a former rest home.

One neighbour said he was sad to see that now the trust linked to department store owner Smith & Caughey no longer owns it, grounds were not as well kept. Locals are keen to know what’s happening in terms of planning, given more intensive developments can be built in their leafy area. But mostly, they’re curious about the buyer and the background.

Little has been published about them previously, only that they are originally from Asia.

Goodfellow said he had known the couple for some years and he had been to China to open a large new building Yaxun Zhang – who he calls Will – had developed there called New Zealand Tower. Yaxun Zhang had worked closed with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise to get New Zealand businesses to establish there, Goodfellow said.

HND Upland is wholly owned by Z & F International Trading whose sole director is Yaxun Zhang, previously linked to charitable earthquake and National Party donations.

In 2011, the Herald reported how Yaxun Zhang, a member of the Henan Chamber of Commerce, offered a $100,000 donation to the Christchurch earthquake appeal.

At that time, the businessman’s donations were discussed via China-born former Member of Parliament Raymond Huo.

The member of the Henan Chamber of Commerce offered the donation after reading an online report headlined “Chinese grieve for those lost amid rubble”, the Herald reported then.

Zhang made his grant in a phone call to Huo, saying he realised the reality of how hard it had hit the Chinese community here in 2011.

“He has family members living in Auckland,” Huo said in 2014 “and told me he will immediately make the cheque available”.

In 2014,Xiao Miao Fan and her husband Yaxun Zhang were reported to be living in $4.8 million house and Fan was reported to have donated $63,500 to the National Party.

At that time, she was reported saying of the party: “I agree with them” and that she knew ex-Prime Minister John Key.

Another media article in 2017 said Zhang and his wife owned Henan Province Zhou Fan Investment Company and have seven companies in New Zealand, mostly involved in agriculture.

The Companies office now shows his companies include Chatham Island Farm, Natural Produce New Zealand, HND Kak, HND Pn, Hnd Rb and Hnd Ts.

What HND Upland plans for the site is unknown, but people in the area say they expect apartments.

Property records show Zhang owns property on Waitangi West Rd on the Chatham Islands, two Greenhithe properties, his own home and a place on the elite Gibbons Rd at Takapuna.

Locals mourned the rest home’s closure.

Desley Simpson, an Auckland councillor and Goodfellow’s wife, said many people in her area were taken aback.

“Our community was really sad when we learned the trust had made the decision to close its doors. This outstanding facility has opened its doors for sometimes generations of people in our community, for the elderly,” she said at the time.

So, what might the new owners be planning for the site and what effects will it have on the existing neighbourhood, trees, traffic and the area’s population?

How extensive will earthworks be? How much noise can be expected during and after construction? How long will it take to build? What might places be sold for? What designs and architects are planned? What emphasis will be on sustainability and what environmental effects might there be? How many carparks are planned and will they be above or below-ground?

At this stage, it’s too early to answer those questions.

Initial planning is being undertaken now but nothing has yet been decided.

However, residential use is understood to be planned, but how intense that could be and how many places could be built and their heights are all unknown. Whether all buildings will be demolished or some kept – including a main block only developed about a decade ago – also remains unclear at this stage.

Peter Goodfellow said: “I have known Yaxun and Xiao Miao personally for about 10 years and worked with them professionally in areas of common interest during that time.”

The photo where the two men are shown is from 2018 at the opening of their commercial tower building in Zhenzhou, the capital city of Henan Province, China, he said.

“Some years earlier, I had laid the foundation stone for the building. The couple are proud New Zealand citizens and the tower is an investment by them which they named New Zealand Tower.

“At the time they worked with NZTE to try to attract New Zealand businesses wanting to set up outside the usual tier 1 cities in Henan, which I understand has the greatest population in China, over 100 million,” Goodfellow says.

Coincidentally, the Goodfellow family have donated to and supported the rest home over many years.

Back in Remuera, construction work is underway in and around that rest home site at neighbouring properties.

Almost directly opposite, Kurt Gibbon’s 44 Ventnor Rd project is 13 townhouses, almost finished. He said changes between when he planned those and now mean he wouldn’t be required to offer a single carpark at his project.

That’s because planning regulations have changed to encourage greater use of public transport and less reliance on cars, meaning developers like him don’t have to offer site parking.

Another developer said he had offered more than $60m but he didn’t want his identity published.

The couple are said to have paid just under $70m for the site.

In 2020, the Herald reported Andrew Caughey, chairman of the Marianne Caughey Smith-Preston Memorial Rest Homes Trust, announcing Colliers appointed to sell the property.

Smith & Caughey’s managing director is the great-great nephew of Irish migrant Marianne Caughey Smith-Preston, who started a drapery shop here in 1880 and whose legacy created the rest home. When she died in 1938, she left most of her estate of £325,000, or about $40m today, to set up the Caughey Preston Trust.

The 108-bed home opened in 1950, its objective to deliver care “second to none” in an environment where clients and their families were the key focus.

But Caughey said the rest home demands changed over the decades, from housing often fitter older women to more geriatric residents, which it was never originally established for. Government funding challenges, law changes and “complexities” in the aged-care model all contributed to issues, he said.

The couple expressed reluctance at this stage to talk about their plans for the site, despite attempts being made to reach them.

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