17 Dec 2019

'It is time to do the right thing': Tauranga Council gift land back to tangata whenua

6:34 pm on 17 December 2019

The Tauranga City Council has finally voted in favour of "giving some mana back to iwi" by gifting contested land back to tangata whenua after a year of going back and forth.

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Photo: Google Maps

Cheers rang out in the public gallery as Tauranga City Councillors voted in favour of 11 Mission Street being gifted to the Otamataha Trust, to be perpetually leased to the Elms Foundation.

Councillors moved a resolution in September for the land to be given to a joint entity representing both groups.

That was put forward after public consultation in December 2018 showed 58 percent of people were against the land being returned, with some of the submissions opposing land being put back in Māori hands.

But a newly elected Tauranga City Council has now opted for the original proposal.

Three councillors voted against, including Andrew Hollis who accused those voting in favour of political correctness.

"If as councillors you decide to gift completely to Otamataha Trust, then you better look hard at yourselves and decide whether integrity truly matters, or whether you're operating within a framework of political correctness, putting some sort of virtue signalling ahead of the community as a whole."

But Mayor Tenby Powell, who voted in favour, said it wasn't about political correctness, but having "moral courage".

"I do believe it is time to do the right thing and to have the moral courage to do so, and to give some mana back to iwi and at the same time to bring the city together."

Otamataha Trust deputy chair Peri Kohu can't remember the last time a piece of land was gifted back to the hapū.

He said tangata whenua have been pushed out of Tauranga for too long, but this has given them hope that they can have true partnership.

"The mayor is really encouraging with the kōrero that he's betraying because at least he's taking a leading role in bringing some of that together - we've been ready to do that for a long time, we've always been saying, "Where's the partnership?"

The Elms Foundation will lease the land from the hapū, and build an education centre.

Chair Ian Thomas is relieved the council has finally made the right decision.

"So much time [has been] spent by Otamataha as well as us over the whims, the changing whims of the council which haven't helped anyone at all, their processes have been pretty poor really... but here we are, we've stuck with it."

He said the foundation will have regard for tikanga in all the work they do.

Next year, the trust will begin demolitioning the existing property at 11 Mission Street, and the connecting property at number 7.