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Government to buy disputed land at Ihumātao for close to $30 million

The Government will buy the land at Ihumātao from Fletcher Building, in the first step to resolving the standoff for the disputed land in South Auckland.

Protestors gather at the Ihumātao site next to Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve in Māngere, Auckland. Source: 1 NEWS

More than a year after the Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) occupied the land and claimed mana whenua, a binding memorandum of understanding (He Pūmautanga) has been signed by Kīngitanga, the Crown and Auckland Council. 

Housing Minister Megan Woods said the land will be bought for $29.9 million under the Land for Housing Programme, with the intent it would avoid issues with the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process. 

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The Government’s purchased the site off Fletcher building for almost $30 million. Source: 1 NEWS

The Government would purchase the land with a proposal that it be used for housing. But, a steering committee (rōpū whakahaere) would ultimately decide what the land would be used for.

The group would be made up of three representatives of the ahi kā (the occupiers), a Kīngitanga representative, and two representatives of the Crown. Auckland Council will act as an observer.

Woods said the exact type and number of houses that would be developed would be agreed to be the signatories. This may include housing for mana whenua, public housing, and papakāinga housing.

“It will be a sensitive development that recognises the special characteristics of the land,” she said. 

“There is a need for housing to support kaumātua and kuia of this place and this agreement recognises that.”

SOUL representatives said the resolution is a "significant" first step and represented the beginning of the next phase in the process.

"There's still more work to do," representatives said.

"Our people have lived here for more than 800 years. We know our whenua and care deeply about its future.

"Our whenua was unjustly confiscated in 1863 and our tūpuna were exiled to the Waikato. This injustice has never been addressed through the Treaty settlement process."

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson re-iterated this afternoon the agreement announced today was outside that of the Treaty settlement process, and that it would not effectively re-open any full and final settlements.

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Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson says proposals range from cultural centres to housing. Source: 1 NEWS

He said he was "confident" no further Treaty claims would arise in relation to the land, and that this was a "unique" arrangement that would allow for consensus decision-making about what would happen to the land.

“Sometimes it takes a long time to do the right thing," he said of the time it took to reach a resolution.

He said the resolution reached today was not indicative that future disputes of a similar nature would require a large protest for the Crown to engage with Māori.

Robertson said the long-term ownership of Ihumātao would depend on what land is ultimately used for. In the meantime, the Crown would hold the land while the rōpū whakahaere came to a consensus view about its use.

But, he said the Government was "keen" to see "sensitive housing" specifically to kaumātua and kuia on Ihumātao. 

"There is still some time to go in this process. But, ultimately, it will lead, I believe, to an enduring solution."

In a media gathering this morning before the announcement, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Government had heard from multiple parties about how the land at Ihumātao should be used.

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The Prime Minister says she heard many different viewpoints about what the land should be used for. Source: 1 NEWS

“I have certainly heard the representations of SOUL. I've also heard the representations of some mana whenua who wished to have housing for their people on the land also," Ardern said.

"That's actually really at the nub of some of the issue. There have been differing views around the future land use at Ihumātao."

She acknowledged the role of the Kīngitanga in trying to find a solution.

“I do think that there is a role in the Government to play in supporting the King to find that resolution.

“Ultimately, a dispute that is left to be a dispute takes us nowhere. A resolution was needed.”

Fletcher Building said it agreed to sell the land at the $29.2 million figure, which would mean the deal is "broadly break even" for the company. 

Fletcher Building’s involvement in Ihumātao now comes to an end, CEO Ross Taylor said. 

“We thank the Government for the pragmatic way they have approached this process. It hasn’t been easy, and we acknowledge their role," he said.

“We also acknowledge the iwi who we engaged with throughout the consenting and proposed master planning of the land. Any plans for the land are now a matter for the Crown and Kīngitanga."

The type of housing on the land would also take into account Heritage New Zealand’s classification of the land as Category 1  - the highest listing available that recognises the outstanding significance of the land. 

Ihumātao was confiscated from Māori in 1863 and was then held in private ownership to British immigrants.

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Ms Newton wants the land to remain a cultural heritage landscape. Source: Q+A

In 2014, Fletcher Building purchased the land with the intention to build 480 homes in partnership with local iwi Te Kawerau ā Maki. 

However, a separate group claiming mana whenua of the land occupied Ihumātao and those plans were put on hold in July last year.

Kiingi Tuuheitia Pootatau Te Wherowhero VII visited Ihumātao on Saturday August 3, 2019 and raised his manawa as a symbol of peace and unity. He offered to facilitate discussions between mana whenua, who agreed that they wanted their land returned.

Ihumātao is a sacred site to Māori. There is archaeological evidence of horticulture, gardening and established community life dating back to the 1500s.

An outline of the MOU (He Pūmautanga) between the Kīngitanga, the Crown and Auckland Council:

  • A steering committee, to be known as the rōpū whakahaere, would be formed to decide on the future use of the land. This could include housing and conservation. It would also consider future ownership options of the land. 
  • The Crown will negotiate with Fletcher Building to enter into a sale and purchase agreement to acquire the land at Ihumātao for the purposes of housing. Once acquired, the land would not be transferred to a third party unless agreed to by all parties.
  • The agreement would not constitute a settlement of historical claims under the Treaty of Waitangi Act, and the land is not intended to be made available to settle any existing or future treaty claims. 
  • The Kīngitanga will act as an intermediary between the three parties