13 Dec 2018

Long-running land dispute resolved as Parliament passes Waitara Lands Bill

2:36 pm on 13 December 2018

After 30 years of talks and nearly 160 years of disagreement, a law's been passed to resolve the long dispute over leasehold land at Waitara.

Waitara is booming.

The Taranaki land wars began at Waitara - a short drive from New Plymouth - when British troops fired shots at Māori, who didn't want to sell up. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The Taranaki land wars began at Waitara - a short drive from New Plymouth - when British troops fired shots at Māori, who didn't want to sell up.

The land was taken and ended up in the hands of the New Plymouth District Council, sparking long and fraught disagreement that's ended with the passing of the Waitara Lands Bill at Parliament last night.

It's the third attempt to settle the case for two hapū - Manukōrihi and Ōtaraua.

They'll get $28 million from property sales on Waitara land over the next two decades, plus $28m more to go to projects co-managed by hapū, iwi and the Taranaki Regional Council.

They'll also get 120 hectares of land, mostly in reserves.

Another $34m will be allocated to Waitara River and environmental projects, co-governed by the council, and hapū and iwi with interests in the river.

Local MP - National's Jonathan Young, who took the bill to Parliament, told the House it has come from the people of north Taranaki.

"New Plymouth District Council, the Regional Council,Te Āti Awa iwi, Waitara hapū, leaseholders - and it's something which as a community we have worked together to bring to this point. It has been a long journey," he said.

In 2014 the Crown settled with the hapū and whanau of Te Āti Awa, which built the pā that was first raided all those years ago. They received $87m and an apology.

The former Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson was heavily involved in that settlement, and said Te Āti Awa were also offered the lands this bill hopes to end the contention over, for $23m.

"They turned it down not once, but three times, and so settlement of that particular transaction having been concluded, we then needed to work out what was to be done with these lands."

So comes the law finally passed on 12 December, which sets out exactly what will happen with the land on which 780 properties currently sit.

All occupants will be given the option of buying their block at a set market value - to go from leasehold to freehold - with the proceeds to be split between hapū and councils.

But some of the property owners aren't happy with the outcome. They say re-financing their homes to buy the land they sit on has become unaffordable.

The Labour MP Andrew Little who hails from New Plymouth, and is the current Treaty Negotiations Minister, said that's unfortunate but is partly their own doing.

"It was a lot of the leaseholders that took the legal action 20-odd years ago that slowed things right down. They took it right through to the top of the judicial system," he said.

"They did that for good reason no doubt and on good advice, but the reality is while all that was happening the land values go up."

Mr Little said in some cases leaseholders bought up lots of blocks in hope of a windfall - and he's not sympathetic to the fact they won't get that now.

The only party against the bill's passage was the Greens. Co-leader Marama Davidson shed tears as she addressed a near-full public gallery, outlining her own discomfort at her opposition.

"Despite all of the genuine efforts we do not feel that we have the full mandate of all hapū in order to support this bill in its entirety," she said.

However all other parties were of the view that this bill would introduce the best possible solution, and as Mr Young told the House, finally provide proper redress for some of the hurt caused all those years ago.

"My hope and my prayer is that this becomes a foundation for going forward, for establishing the aspirations and being able to fulfil the dreams that you have for your people," he said.