25 Jul 2019

Regret over Ihumātao land decision expressed at council vote

7:49 pm on 25 July 2019

Some Auckland councillors say they regret signing off on the Ihumātao land being used for housing.

People continue to occupy Ihumatao after protestors were served an eviction notice which led to a stand-off with police.

People continue to occupy Ihumatao after protestors were served an eviction notice which led to a stand-off with police. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Councillors discussed the ongoing stand-off between protesters and the police next to a historical reserve in Mangere as an extraordinary item at a meeting this afternoon.

They voted unanimously in favour of organising an urgent meeting between interested parties as a last-ditch effort to resolve the dispute.

But supporters say they will remain skeptical until they see what is on the table.

The vote came as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated the government's position that it would not get involved.

Ihumātao's history is long and complicated and Auckland's governing body is interwoven with its most recent chapters.

It started when Auckland Council tried to make the land an open, public space.

In 2012, this move was successfully challenged in the Environment Court and the council was directed to rezone the land, meaning it could be developed for business or residential purposes in future.

The council could not challenge this decision.

Two years later, the government and the council allocated a piece of land next to the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve as a Special Housing Area.

Councillor Wayne Walker said that piece of legislation was a mistake.

"The special housing legislation that went to this was a mistake and arguably the council should've been stronger in opposing it."

In 2015, the council voted against a motion to revoke the Special Housing Area - 12 to five.

Pania Newton and others opposing the development were there four years ago as councillors cast their votes and presented a petition, saying the rural land needed to be protected due to its cultural and environmental significance.

Councillor John Watson remembered that day well.

"They came in here in record numbers back in 2015, they absolutely packed this place out, the biggest crowd you've ever seen in here. They were in chamber, outside and downstairs.

"It should've been apparent at that point that this matters to the people out there and that it's not going to go away."

In March this year SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape) and its supporters took a petition to Parliament demanding government intervention to prevent a confrontation on the land.

The following month a hikoi, ending in Auckland's Aotea Square, saw a 20,000-signature petition delivered to Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, calling for local council and government to protect the land.

Mr Watson said the council was optimistic in thinking the dispute would just disappear.

"What became very apparent to me as an outsider, is attitudes are hardening and what's happened over the last few days has just ramped it all up again now."

Ihumātao supporters say they will remain skeptical until they see what is on the table after Auckland Council's vote to organise a meeting.

Ihumātao supporters say they will remain skeptical until they see what is on the table after Auckland Council's vote to organise a meeting. Photo: Photo / Katie Scotcher

The stand-off

Protesters have now been in a stand-off with the police at Ihumātao for three days.

As the Ihumatao protest continues into another night, the police have reiterated that their role is to uphold the law and allow people to go about their lawful business, while also respecting the public's right to protest.

They said they were pleased with the behaviour of protesters today.

Police said they have been talking to protest organisers throughout the day.

They also met with observers from Amnesty International.

Councillor Efeso Collins has visited the blockade and described the police response as completely over-the-top.

"It feels like our over-stretched police force are being used as almost a private security firm for a group of foreign investors. This does not have a place in my ward."

Mr Goff said yesterday there's nothing more the council could do, but councillor Cathy Casey today asked him to facilitate a meeting between iwi, the council, the Crown and other interested parties at Ihumātao.

"I think that is all we can do, but we have to do something. So to say, well, we tried before and so-and-so said no, I think we need to say this situation is grave and it's on our watch."

Councillors voted unanimously in favour of the facilitated meeting.

Mr Goff touched on the fact that he had tried to solve this dispute before, but said he was willing to make a further effort to find a way around it.

"You can never try hard enough to avoid confrontation that will leave scars and to try to find common ground. I'm willing to make that further effort to approach, yet again, and say is there a way around this?"

The supporters

A small number of supporters sat through the proceedings at the Auckland Town Hall this afternoon.

After the meeting, Jacqueline Paul said how it all worked needed to be carefully considered.

"I am still very skeptical around what that looks like and whether there will be any, I guess, outcomes focus out of that.

"At the same time, it will be interesting to see how they get all of these people in the room."

Mr Goff said it was now a matter of contacting any interested parties to determine if and when a meeting could take place.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said while everyone wanted to see a resolution over a bitter dispute at Ihumātao, the government would not get involved.

"This is something obviously everyone wants to see resolution around, no one wants to see the kinds of disruption and outpouring of emotion [we have seen]," she said.

"Everyone wants a resolution but ultimately it will have to come from mana whenua."

Ms Ardern refused to comment on how long police would stay at Ihumātao.

She said that was an operational matter.

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