23 Apr 2019

Select committee to decide fate of contentious land at Ihumātao

10:08 pm on 23 April 2019

The Māori Affairs Select Committee has visited Ihumātao, a former Māori land now destined for housing development, and is set to make recommendations on its future to Parliament.

Protesters at Ihumātao, who have been occupying the roadside there for about a month.

Protesters at Ihumātao in December 2016 after they had been occupying the roadside there for about a month. Photo: RNZ / Shannon Haunui-Thompson

Ihumātao is located next to the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve in Māngere - home to New Zealand's earliest market gardens and a significant archaeological site on land considered wahi tapu, or sacred, by local hapū and iwi.

Part of the land - 32 hectares - is zoned as a Special Housing Area. It's owned by Fletcher Residential, which plans to construct 480 homes on the site.

A group called Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) is trying to stop that from going ahead.

Committee members including the deputy chairperson - Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson - went to the site in Auckland on 15 April after receiving a 20,000-signature petition from SOUL.

Ms Davidson said the committee felt it was "incredibly important" to visit the site and meet the mana whenua.

"We were welcomed onto Makaurau marae, we heard first-hand from the kaumātua, from the elders, from the younger generation and the original campaigners as to the whole background and history of the land and of the mana whenua community.

"The Māori Affairs Select Committee have now called for [submitters of the] petition to make an oral submission directly to us to supplement the petition.

"We can request other organisations or individuals to give a briefing directly to the Māori Affairs Select Committee. Once we have heard from all the people we have requested and taken everything into consideration we will then make a recommendation to the petition and that will be introduced into the house.

A Fletcher Building spokesperson said: "We understand the committee is wanting to hear views of interested parties including Fletcher Building. We will provide information to the committee, as it is important they are aware of the facts."

Marama Davidson

Marama Davidson Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The recommendations the committee could make were "up to the imagination," she said.

"We could absolutely recommend that the government find a solution to stop the development from going ahead.

"We could recommend a stay of some sort working with other councils and organisations. As proposed we could recommend a facilitated process. There's no end to what the Māori Affairs Select Committee can recommend. We're bound only by laws and policies. We could recommend the land, which I believe was confiscated [in the1860s] be returned to mana whenua, to undergo a process of Treaty justice.

"But that will be up to all the committee members reaching a consensus."

Ms Davidson said the committee understood Fletcher Building had given notice asking the protesters occupying the land to leave by early May.

"We know we're up against time here," she said.

'Leave the property immediately'

The Fletcher Building spokesperson said the company had "written several times to the people who are unlawfully occupying the property at Ihumātao. A letter was sent to them again last week, requesting they leave the property immediately".

"Fletcher Building has not authorised anyone to live at the dwelling. Trespass notices were issued to three people occupying the site in 2016.

"We have advised the trespassers that we do not believe the dwellings on the property are in a habitable condition, and that they do not have our permission the owner to be there."

"It is worth noting that the local people Te Kawerau a Maki who hold mana whenua at Ihumātao have said publicly that SOUL does not represent the iwi."

However, there are mana whenua at the site who are not Te Kawerau a Maki.

A mana whenua/Save Our Unique Landscape hikoi for Ihumatao in Auckland on 9 April 2019.

A mana whenua and Save Our Unique Landscape hīkoi for Ihumātao in Auckland to deliver the petition to Mayor Phil Goff. Photo: RNZ / Leith Huffadine

SOUL co-founder Qiane Matata-Sipu said it was "heartening" to have the committee visit.

"We got to speak to them about the papakāinga, some of the historical grievances, some of the history of Ihumātao and then, of course, talk to them about the current issue with the Fletcher development.

"SOUL wants government to buy the land - where work could begin any day - or "mandate a process that comes up with an outcome everyone can live with".

Ms Matata-Sipu hoped the committee would recommend the government intervene.

However, last weekend, Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford said all legal options to resolve the Ihumātao issue had been exhausted, according to Māori Television.

"It's generally a complex issue with competing views from mana whenua, the SOUL group, and Fletchers who own the land are looking to develop it and we urge all of the parties to this issue to get around the table and continue talking to try and find a solution," he said.

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