Potential Ihumātao decision: How we got here

2:34 pm on 23 June 2020

With the possibility of a decision on the future of disputed land at Ihumātao coming as soon next week, here's how the situation got to this point.

Ihumātao protesters camping overnight on the grounds on Saturday, 28 July.

Ihumātao protesters camping overnight on the grounds on Saturday, 28 July 2019. Photo: RNZ / Jordan Bond

RNZ understands a deal is close, with the land to potentially be acquired under the Housing Act - although the Minister for Housing, Megan Woods, says no decision has been made.

The site, near Auckland Airport, saw an influx of hundreds of protesters last July to stop the construction of close to 500 homes by Fletcher Building.

The development has been on hold since then as the government, Fletcher Building and mana whenua tried to reach a resolution.

RNZ Māori news director Māni Dunlop spoke to Morning Report about the situation at Ihumātao.

Where are things at?

"Those objecting to the proposed development have been occupying Ihumātao for three and a half years. Ihumātao is located next to the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve in Māngere, out near the airport. It is home to New Zealand's earliest market gardens and a significant archaeological site on land considered wāhi tapu by local hapū and iwi.

"Since 5 November 2016, about 20 members of the community have been camping by the side of the road opposing a housing development by Fletcher Building. Some continued to live there - and named themselves SOUL - Save Our Unique Landscapes.

"Last year the occupation really ramped up when an eviction notice was served to occupiers - thousands poured in from all over the country to bolster the protesters already there and ensure Fletchers didn't build 480 houses on the site. And as you'll remember, grabbed the headlines for quite awhile - especially around quite a big police presence early on in the movement."

Watch: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and National Party leader Todd Muller respond to questions about Ihumātao:

What is the history of this land?

"Initially the land was taken 'by proclamation' during the Crown invasion of the Waikato in 1863. It was confiscated under the New Zealand Settlements Act, thus breaching the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi.

"The land was stolen - there is no dispute about that - by the Crown, then granted to the Wallace family who farmed it for the next 150 years.

"Then fast forward - then came the big Auckland housing push, and the National government's insistence that the city wasn't doing enough to house its rapidly growing population. Special Housing Areas were invented, with authorities given power to push them through without long and involved planning hearings.

"The "Wallace Block" at Ihumātao was named as one such Special Housing Area and in 2016 Fletcher Building bought it with plans to construct 480 homes. That's when the protests really started.

"As a result, the prime minister halted construction on the land while a resolution was negotiated - and also remember the Kiingitanga was part of facilitating those talks early on - back in January there were clear indications that a resolution was very close when Kiingi Tūheitia, in a symbolic move, returned to the whenua to lower his flag which he raised at the land in August."

Ihumātao proposed development

Ihumātao proposed development Photo: RNZ/Google Earth

Why under the Housing Act?

"That would avoid any conflicts with Treaty of Waitangi settlements ... which are designed to be 'full and final'. Advocates and commentators have said that a big part of the government's reluctance to step in and buy the land to return it to the hapū is the concern that it would create a precedent.

"When options were being touted, it was raised that Treaty Settlements around the motu could be re-opened and relitigated depending on what the government decided to do.

"We understand, as part of the deal, that a rōpū whakahaere will be created like a trust board, it will comprise of mana whenua, Auckland Council and government representatives - it would decide what should happen to the land and whether it is developed or not.

"SOUL has always been clear on not wanting to build any housing on the land but because as we understand, it will be acquired under the Housing Act - the expectation is that some sort of dwellings will be built - so could imagine, if that's the case, there would be a phased approached to a housing development, which could potentially prioritise kuia and kaumātua papakāinga but any decisions made will be made under that rōpū whakahaere.

"It is something the government is at pains to avoid, and it seems the Housing Act is the path they've decided to follow. Which is only fair, seeing it was the use of Special Housing Areas that kicked this dispute into high gear."

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A banner at an Ihumātao protest in Wellington last year. Photo: RNZ / DOM THOMAS

Do we have any idea how much this could cost?

"Finance Minister Grant Robertson is the minister in charge of finding a solution but he won't be drawn on what a final deal might look like

"In November, RNZ revealed discussions were underway for Auckland Council to buy the land at Ihumātao in a bid to break the three-year deadlock between Fletcher's and those camped on site. Back then the construction company is seeking $40 million for the property - more than double the $19m it paid in 2014.

"But Auckland's Mayor, Phil Goff, told RNZ last night that they weren't involved in these discussions, so any deal will be done by the government, not the council. And we just heard from the housing minister that no decision has been made - and she wasn't going to make any comment."

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