'Huge step forward' - hapu welcome proposal to return Matakana Island land taken by Crown

A proposal to return 172 hectares of land on Matakana Island has been mostly applauded in the Bay of Plenty.

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The land was taken by the Crown under the Public Works Act in 1923. Source: 1 NEWS

The island, which is about 25 kilometres long and shelters Tauranga Harbour, is home to around 250 people.

The land was taken by the Crown under the Public Works Act in 1923.

Local hapu say this is "the light at the end of the tunnel".

"A huge step forward we've been negotiating with the council for over six years,” says Ngai Te Rangi elder Hauata Palmer.

Proposal to return part of Matakana Island to iwi would still allow public on popular Bay of Plenty spot

Under the proposal, 172 hectares of land would be returned to five hapu of Matakana, seven hectares would become a council-owned reserve and the beach would still be accessible to the public.

“It will go back to a trust representative of the island and so that's taken a while to put that together,” Western Bay of Plenty District Mayor Garry Webber said.

"There is quite a few urupa on the block of land so it's like a real good cemetery that the Europeans wouldn't like forest being planted across the top of so this has major significance for tangata whenua."

Lawyer and former Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister, Chris Finlayson, welcomed the proposal.

“Well I think that's actually not a bad idea, the council have a lot of land, much of it is surplus, much of it may be sites that are of great significance to iwi and hapu and so to the extent that there's a precedent, maybe it could see other councils to take a fresh look at some of this stuff and act in a creative way while at all time preserving public access,” Mr Finlayson said.

The council says it inherited the land, at no cost, from the Tauranga Harbour Board under government reform in 1989.

It's now asking the public to have their say on returning the land to its ancestral owners.

"This is a great day for New Zealand, it's about doing what is fair, what is just, but most importantly, what is right,” Western Bay of Plenty Mayor Garry Webber said

However, there are some in the community who say iwi should pay for the land. 

"There shouldn't be any cost and it should be handed back to the people, to the hapu, for what they paid for it, which was nothing,” Mr Palmer said.

What's next is convincing the public the land should be returned to tangata whenua.

Submissions close at the end of next month.