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Ihumātao: Crown considers loan for Auckland Council to buy land


By RNZ's Jo Moir 

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King Tuheitia’s been negotiating behind closed doors with competing mana whenua groups. Source: 1 NEWS

Discussions are under way for Auckland Council to buy the disputed Ihumātao land in a bid to break the three-year deadlock.

Sources have told RNZ the Crown is considering loaning money to the council so it can purchase the land from Fletcher Residential, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fletcher Building.

Fletcher is seeking $40 million for the property - more than double the $19m it paid in 2014.

RNZ understands the government is keen to get the controversial land dispute wrapped up by the new year to avoid it overshadowing the annual pilgrimage to Rātana and Waitangi.

Some commentators had speculated that Waikato-Tainui might purchase the land, but that prospect ground to a halt.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson is leading the talks around a resolution. In a statement to RNZ, he said the government was continuing efforts to find a solution that respected "all parties including the Crown, mana whenua and Fletchers".

"These matters are complex and are taking some time to work through, but all parties are working on negotiating a solution that satisfies everyone involved," he said.

Ihumātao is located next to the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve in Māngere - home to New Zealand's earliest market gardens and a significant archaeological site on land considered wahi tapu, or sacred, by local hapū and iwi.

Heritage New Zealand announced this month it was considering expanding the borders of the Stonefields reserve to include the disputed land and increasing its status to the highest level of heritage recognition.

"Whatever recommendation is finally made by Heritage New Zealand will then go to Auckland Council for it to consider whether to change the land's current status," Mr Robertson told RNZ.

Even if the land's heritage status was increased, the status of the special housing area would remain intact, meaning the land could still be used to build papakāinga housing - homes designed by Māori for Māori.

Public submissions on the heritage status are open until 29 November with a final decision expected no later than the end of February.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Morning Report today: "The only thing I can confirm is since the king and kiingitanga handed to us some of the outcome of their work with mana whenua that we have been working really hard on finding a solution and that's work that's ongoing so I cannot confirm any final resolution, any details around anything beyond the fact that we in fact have remained involved in this issue since July and continue to work hard to find a solution."

"We've got a couple of principles here we are working to. One of course is the will and desire of mana whenua and the other, importantly, is not undermining the treaty ... the third of course is that Fletchers have gone into a development arrangement here in good faith and of course have development interests here too ... and I am confident we will find a way through, but again, I'm not going to speculate."

She said the Heritage New Zealand moves to extend greater protections to the land did change things but said that only affected what could happen on the land if Auckland Council took a series of particular steps.

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The controversial Ihumatao housing development is going up on sacred land, critics say. Source: 1 NEWS