10 Dec 2018

Leaseholders and hapū oppose Waitara Lands Bill

3:24 pm on 10 December 2018

The New Plymouth District Council is pushing ahead with the Waitara Lands Bill despite one hapū removing its support and the angry reaction of leaseholders.

Roughly fashioned survey pegs with place names lie in the grass

Symbolic surveyors pegs laid out ahead of the Waitara Lands Bill hearing at Owae Marae. Photo: ( RNZ / Robin Martin )

The Waitara Lands Bill is designed to end one of New Zealand's longest running land disputes.

If passed it would allow 770 leaseholders to buy land illegally confiscated from Te Ātiawa in the 1860s and return 44ha of land to Otaraua and Manukorihi hapū who would also benefit from the sale of leases.

The private bill would also return 44ha to the hapū - 13 hectares of developed residential land and 31ha of reserve land.

It also includes a $34 million fund to restore the Waitara River and provision for a $28m Hapū Land Fund to enable Otaraua and Manukorihi hapū to acquire and develop more land at Waitara.

Otaraua withdrew its support for the bill ahead of an extraordinary meeting today to sign to sign off a supplementary order paper ahead of the bill returning to Parliament.

It will no longer be a beneficiary of the bill, but the door has been left open to join Te Kōwhatu Tū Moana, a new entity created to represent the hapū.

Mayor Neil Holdom began the meeting by acknowledging that the land at Waitara had been illegally confiscated from Māori before being passed onto the council.

"That was an unjust act."

Mr Holdom also said leaseholders had suffered.

They had been told numerous times over the past 30 years they would be allowed to freehold their land, he said, including in statements from council.

In deputations, leaseholders said being asked to pay full market value for their sections decades after first being told they would be able to freehold was unfair.

Trent Hall said the reality was that a large number of leaseholders would not be able to freehold their land because the banks would not lend to them because they were now too old.

Others would simply struggle to pay the existing leases.

Mr Hall said the whole process had been undemocratic and the leaseholders' voices had not been heard.

A member of the Manukorihi hapū Graham Porter said the land should have been returned to the hapū with no strings attached.

"You have to remember we are dealing with a thief.

"The mayor came out to Waitara and said the land had been stolen but he couldn't give it back. I don't get that."

The bill heads back to Parliament next week for its third reading.

The council's apology

"We acknowledge the land was originally confiscated by the government and in 1941 it was transferred to the former Waitara Borough Council.

"The land became part of the newly formed New Plymouth District Council during the 1989 reorganisation of local government.

"Our financial and legal obligations to all of our 80,000 residents mean we cannot simply return the land to the hapū.

"After almost 30 years of talks, this draft bill is not perfect but it's the best way forward.

"If this draft bill doesn't proceed, it will be a lost opportunity for this generation, after decades of on and off negotiations."

What this means

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 over the same period will assist the two hapū to purchase, manage or develop land in Waitara.

Approximately $28 million will go to Waitara projects, co-governed by the hapū and NPDC, also over a 20-year period.

Approximately $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.

What happens with public land?

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 (Pukekohe Park, parts of Ranfurly Park, James Nuku Reserve, Te Puna Park and Joll St Reserve).

These will be co-governed with the district council 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 the Waitara Golf Course.