9 Sep 2019

The fight to develop Māori land despite strong opposition

4:50 pm on 9 September 2019

A Māori land trust is not giving up its fight to build a holiday park on indigenous freehold land in the Bay of Plenty, despite a petition strongly opposing the development.

No caption

Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

The trustees of The Tumu Kaituna 14 Trust failed to change the land's status through the Māori Land Court last year in order to fund the project.

They have since appealed that decision.

The subdivision proposed by the trust will also include more than 1000 houses and a cultural centre.

Its chair Malcolm Short said developing the land was the reason the trust was set up in the first place.

"The vision has been, since the trust was incorporated, to look at a way forward to develop the land in the best interests of the shareholders.

"It will give them an option to purchase a section there in the future. They then can keep their connection with the land."

He said other land ventures had failed, and the landowners were not benefitting from the estate.

"We've had a go at growing crops - maize corn, silage for farmers - but we've lost a couple of crops over the dry summers and no contractors will entertain doing that again.

"As shareholders, at the moment, they get a zero return."

The trust applied to the Māori Land Court last year to convert the 55-hectare block - a slice of the 240-hectare estate - from Māori freehold land to that for general purpose.

This would make it easier for the trust to access loans to pay for the development.

But some of the more than 4000 landowners, like Renee Kiriona, oppose the move, and believe the development will destroy a unique, historical, and spiritual landscape.

She said a petition opposing the development had strong support.

"Back in the late 1800s there was a huge battle on the land. There's a lot of fallen dead, who fought in that war, still lying in the sand and the earth.

"In the past six months of this campaign we have managed to find about 800 shareholders. All of those 800 support us. They don't want their land sold."

She said the trust did not adequately consult the landowners about the development.

"When the trustees sent out a postal vote more than a year ago to the owners, whose contact details they do have, I think they got a little more than 100 who supported their proposal. That's 100 out of thousands.

"I don't think that postal vote was sent to any more than a few hundred owners. Our argument was: 'No, that was not a mandate.' "

The survey in fact received just 126 responses.

The Māori Land Court rejected the trust's application on the basis that it did not have sufficient support.

Of the 1.4 million hectares of Māori freehold land in New Zealand, 133,359 hectares are not being used.

The government is determined to see more Māori freehold land being put to use - and announced a $56 million investment earlier this year to support Māori freehold land owners.

Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta said some landowners just did not know where to start.

"Te Puni Kōkiri itself are providing on the ground advisory support services to landowners, and coupled with the Māori Land Court, I think that will strengthen the support around those landowners who are starting their journey to figure out what they want to happen with their land."

Meanwhile, Māori landowners who oppose the development are anxiously awaiting a decision by the Māori Appellate Court.

They have said their ancestral land was at stake, and would continue to fight the trust through the courts if necessary.