Ōpihi burial ground appeal - developer and Māori groups to meet out of court

5:02 pm on 7 December 2022

An Environment Court appeal has been adjourned as the developer and Whakatāne Māori groups have agreed to meet for discussions. Photo: Unsplash / Jackson Currie

Māori groups in Whakatāne have welcomed a decision to pause the development of a retirement village by an urupā.

The Environment Court was due to hear an appeal against a Heritage New Zealand decision to grant approval for the development.

But the sitting was adjourned after the developer and iwi groups agreed to out-of-court discussions to try to resolve the dispute without litigation.

Protect Ōpihi Whanganau Kore spokesperson Merenia Hudson said tangata whenua were relieved.

"We know it's a gesture in the right direction that the developers felt the concern of many for Ōpihi Whanaungakore and responded this way," Hudson said. "That's promising to us so we're celebrating the decision as a win, at least to give us some time as well to consider what might happen next."

Heritage NZ last year approved an archaeological authority consent for the project, where MMS GP Ltd hopes to develop a large-scale retirement village near Ōpihi Whanaungakore.

The urupā, which was still used today, was the resting place for many significant Ngāti Awa and Mataatua ancestors.

Merenia Hudson said she was glad there would be some proper engagement.

"It was the pressure that came on during the week last week - not only from the online presence but also on the ground and the grassroots - that people who had been fighting for this generation, the pressure that was mounting, I guess encourage the hand to return to this option that was always on the table, we were always able to have these discussions directly," said Hudson.

In a statement, Heritage NZ also welcomed the adjournment.

"We agreed on the basis that all other parties wanted the adjournment to explore possible options for resolution," it said.

The Whakatāne District Council, in a statement, said the dispute had shown the necessity for proper engagement.

"We know that this development has again shown the necessity for council to appropriately respond to the protection of cultural and spiritual values, whilst also managing the responsibilities of housing development.

"This is challenging, and we know we have got a lot of work to do to ensure we get this balance right for the benefit of all in the district."

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