19 Feb 2020

Fletcher Building growing impatient for Ihumātao solution

5:23 pm on 19 February 2020

The owners of the disputed land at Ihumātao say for seven months they've halted development at the request of the Prime Minister, but that can't continue indefinitely.

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Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Fletcher Building owns the land in South Auckland and have been in talks with government ministers, Auckland Council and mana whenua - including those occupying the land - to try bring the controversial dispute to an end.

While those involved say good progress was being made, hope that a deal would be struck by Waitangi Day has now been and gone.

In November, RNZ revealed discussions were underway for Auckland Council to buy the land at Ihumātao in a bid to break the three-year deadlock between Fletcher's and those camped on site.

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

Today Fletcher chief executive Ross Taylor presented its half-year results and described the ongoing occupation of its land as a complex situation.

"We've been very patient, we were asked by the Prime Minister to step back and allow parties to try and come to an acceptable solution, we've done that for seven months,'' Taylor said.

"I think it's very close based on our conversations with very senior levels of government, but the point I've made through these results is that after seven months we've been very reasonable and that needs to come to a conclusion in the short term.''

Taylor said while he was encouraged by the talks between the parties involved, the reality was that Fletcher was the legal owner of the land and had full consent to build on it.

When the land was purchased Fletcher cut a deal with mana whenua to return a third of it to local iwi - approximately eight hectares.

Taylor said for years they've been respectful, including halting any development, and while talks are encouraging, the underlying point is that Fletcher is entitled to develop the land.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson is the minister in charge of negotiating a deal but he won't be drawn on when that might happen.

"I can't predict that at the moment but I do encourage you to read all of Fletcher's statement, and it does say that they believe a resolution is close and I'm optimistic about that.''

He accepted Fletcher has been waiting a long time.

"Yes, Fletcher's has had to be patient just as everybody else in this scenario has to be as well,'' Robertson said.

Whānau Ora Minister and Tāmaki Makaurau MP Peeni Henare has been involved in the land dispute from the beginning and has met regularly with mana whenua.

"Oh, like I say, we're optimistic. My understanding is that during the conversations had on the matter we were hopeful that we were close to the finish line if you like,'' he said.

"Things happen and it is what it is.''

Henare said Fletcher had a right to be frustrated by the delays - something he says the land owners have expressed all along.

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