Ultimately hapū members will decide whether a bill designed to bring an end to one of New Zealand's longest running land disputes is endorsed or not, a Waitara leader says.
Otaraua and Manukorihi hapū will this weekend consider the details of a revised New Plymouth District Council Waitara Lands Bill which would enable leaseholders to freehold their leased properties, valued at about $90 million.
If adopted, the bill would allow 770 leaseholders to buy land illegally confiscated from Taranaki Māori in the 1860s.
The bill would also return 44 hectares to the hapū: 13 hectares of developed residential land and 31 hectares of reserve land.
The revised bill now also includes a $34 million fund to restore the Waitara River and provision for a $28 million Hapū Land Fund to enable Otaraua and Manukorihi hapū to acquire and develop more land at Waitara.
Manukorihi chairwoman Patsy Bodger said the bill was an improvement on the first draft presented to the hapū two years ago.
"It's definitely better than what we first had but we're still working on some tweaking or some rewording. Not fundamental changes though."
Ms Bodger wasn't sure that hapū members would endorse the bill or not.
"There are people against it and several for it so we'll just have to wait and see what happens. I guess we are at the sharp end and the pressure is on getting it right.
"There's that fear of 'are we doing the right thing in moving it forward?'. I don't know what the decision will be. We'll have to wait until Sunday."
In a statement, New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom acknowledged the land was confiscated before it was transferred to the council's predecessor, the Waitara Borough Council, in 1941.
Mr Holdom said the bill was not perfect but it was the best way forward.
"We recognise the pain and hurt of the hapū at not having the land back. I was at Ōwae Marae for the Select Committee hearings and heard the heartache and sadness. But as the council is bound by its financial obligations to all of its 80,000 residents, it meant that we couldn't just give the land back, however unfair that seems."
Mr Holdom said after the Treaty settlement process, in which Te Āti Awa turned down an option to buy the leasehold land for $23 million from its $87 million financial redress, the council had to find a new way to work through the problem and it was this bill.
"After almost 30 years of talks, this bill is not perfect but it presents a real opportunity for the hapū to create a strong foundation for the future. If it doesn't proceed, it'll be a lost opportunity for this generation to resolve this historic and complex matter for the benefit of Waitara."
Mr Holdom said the bill also gave certainty to leaseholders who retained their perpetual rights to occupy under the conditions they signed up to when they bought their leases and who now also had the right to purchase freehold title at market value.
Waitara leaseholder Trent Hall said the leaseholders were getting a rough deal.
"We're a very poor town and many of the leaseholders have aged during this process and can't afford to buy their properties or get loans from the banks."
Mr Hall said sections had cost about $8000 15 years ago, but they were now worth up to $120,000.
Mr Holdom acknowledged the criticism from leaseholders.
"But like the situation for the hapū where they cannot get the confiscated land back, the bill reflects the reality that NPDC [New Plymouth District Council] has an obligation to all 80,000 people in the district and cannot legally sell publicly owned land below market value, no matter what the history."
If the hapū endorse the bill, it will proceed to a council meeting for sign off and then to Cabinet, followed by a final reading in Parliament.
- The bill enables leaseholders to purchase freehold their leased properties at market value.
- There are 770 Waitara properties valued at $90 million.
- From the sale of these properties over the next 20 years, it is expected about $28 million will assist the two hapū to purchase, manage or develop land in Waitara.
- About $28 million will go to Waitara projects, co-governed by the hapū and NPDC, also over a 20-year period.
- About $34 million will be allocated to Waitara River and environment projects. This will be co-governed by the hapū and iwi with interests in the river and the Taranaki Regional Council.
Parks and Reserves:
- About 120 hectares of land is available to hapū in various ways, mostly as reserves.
- The bill gifts 44 hectares of land to the hapū: 13 hectares of developed residential land and 31 hectares of reserve land.
- The hapū will gain titles to parks and reserves totalling 13 hectares if they wish to take them.
- The hapū also have the option to purchase five Crown Reserves totalling 26 hectares
- These will be co-governed with NPDC and have Reserve status, allowing for continued public access.
- The bill allows the hapū an option to purchase another 35 hectares of land in Waitara such as part of Ranfurly Park and the Waitara Golf Course.