Ihumātao: Government 'trying to escape public liability' - Pania Newton

12:23 pm on 29 November 2019

The Crown loaning money to Auckland Council to buy the contested Ihumātao block off Fletcher Building is a roundabout way to resolve the issue, says Pania Newton of SOUL.

Pania Newton before today's hīkoi from Ihumātao to the Prime Minister's office in Mount Albert.

Pania Newton before today's hīkoi from Ihumātao to the Prime Minister's office in Mount Albert. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

At the company's annual general meeting yesterday, chair Bruce Hassall said Fletcher had been speaking to government about the Ihumātao land occupation by mana whenua groups, which had stopped all work for months.

He said Fletcher Building had been advised that the government was hopeful of achieving a resolution by the end of the year.

Sources have told RNZ the Crown is considering lending money to the council so it can purchase the land from Fletcher Residential, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fletcher Building.

But Pania Newton of SOUL told Morning Report it's a roundabout way to resolve the issue.

"If the government are going to loan the money to council why do they not just pay outright themselves, I think they're trying to escape public liability, especially coming up to an election year."

In September, mana whenua groups came together under the mantle of Māori King Tuuheitia and made it clear they wanted the land returned to them.

"Either or, council or government, all we're asking for is for the land to be returned back to mana whenua, to hold it in trust for all New Zealanders to enjoy."

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Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Pania Newton is a Fletcher Building shareholder and was at the company's AGM.

She's attended five over the years and said the shareholders and the board have warmed up to her group, SOUL.

At yesterday's AGM she felt there was a lot of support in the room, and other general shareholders raised concerns about the Ihumātao block.

"Since things have esculated, they're a little bit nicer to us so we don't damage their brand, it was very warm inside, everyone was very welcoming."

She said SOUL are still in the dark about the future of the whenua despite Fletcher Building saying a solution is expected soon.

"We remain patient here on the land until such time."

Mana whenua are asking Auckland Council to review the Unitary Plan to change the zoning of the contested landblock, she said.

At the AGM Ms Newton asked the board what their commitment to protecting and preserving the landblock was, as Heritage New Zealand is considering making the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve a category one.

Ms Newton said she didn't feel she got an answer.

"I would have hoped that they would support the increase of the Hertiage listing for Ōtuataua and possibly across the broader Ihumātao landscape but they assured us that they are considering their submissions at this time and that would be made public in a few days to come."

It would mean Ihumātao could possibly be granted a category one listing, which would strengthen its protection, she said, but legally the development can still go ahead.

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