Council spends $400k developing rejected bill

1:57 pm on 22 December 2016

The New Plymouth District Council has spent more than $400,000 on consultants drawing up a bill aimed at resolving historical land issues at Waitara, which Te Ātiawa has rejected.

Front of the building housing the New Plymouth District Council

Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Chief executive Barbara McKerrow said the council had spent $435,000 on legal, survey and valuation advice since work on the Waitara Lands Bill began in 2015.

In addition, Ms McKerrow said the bill had been a significant project for a number of council staff, but she could not put a price on this.

"The process of developing legislation is complex. I have been personally involved in the council's Waitara lands process for more than a decade and it has always had the well-being of Waitara at its heart," she said.

Te Ātiawa's post-settlement trust, Te Kotahitanga o Te Ātiawa, initially backed the Waitara Lands Bill but withdrew its support before Māori Affairs Select Committee hearings last month.

The Waitara land was confiscated following a disputed land purchase at the Peka Peka block, which led to the outbreak of the Taranaki Land Wars at Te Kohia Pā in 1860.

In 2014, Te Ātiawa rejected an opportunity to buy the land for $23 million, which would have come out of its $87m Treaty settlement.

Instead the iwi entered into a non-binding Heads of Agreement with the council to create a local bill to take to Parliament.

If adopted, the bill would allow the freeholding of 780 leasehold properties, while returning about 60ha of reserve land to the iwi. Another 16ha would become available to the iwi for development.

The $60m potentially raised from the sale of leases would be co-managed by the iwi and council, and by law, pumped back into the North Taranaki township.

In its submission to the select committee, Te Ātiawa said the bill was not in the best interests of the iwi, and it members and Waitara hapū were overwhelmingly against it.

The iwi said the original agreement with the council did not allow it enough time to consult with iwi members and it was not directly involved in the drafting of the bill.

Its preference was to have more land returned, but the council determined what land was available for transfer, it said.

Te Ātiawa said it made submissions to council when the bill was publicly notified, but most of the amendments it suggested were not adopted.

The iwi said there was a still lot of ignorance about what had happened at Waitara.

"It has become clear to the trustees that the history of the Waitara lands and the injustices suffered by the Te Ātiawa people as a result of the loss of their lands is not well understood by local people living on those lands, the two councils or the New Zealand public."

The iwi said that apart from a brief mention in the preamble, the bill had missed a prime opportunity for peace and reconciliation to be an integral part of the Waitara lands freeholding process.

Te Kotahitanga o Te Ātiawa did not return RNZ calls.

It is understood the iwi will speak to is submission on the Waitara Lands Bill when the Māori Affairs Select Committee reconvenes in Waitara in the new year.