The iwi that owns a Taranaki beachfront campground reserve is backing a proposal to co-manage its land with the local council.
Ngāti Mutunga has owned Onaero Reserve since it was returned in the iwi's 2005 Treaty settlement, but the deal demands it remains a recreation reserve administered by New Plymouth District Council.
Taranaki councils are increasingly sharing management and governance duties with iwi and hapū, despite vocal election-year objections that politicians are eroding democratic control of public assets.
But the typical co-management arrangement is turned upside-down at Onaero, where Ngāti Mutunga is the landowner sharing control with NPDC.
Council officers now want to draw up a new plan to cement co-management with the iwi.
Councillors are yet to give the go-ahead, but a report this week to the iwi liaison committee Te Huinga Taumatua said work was already underway.
"The Onaero Reserve Management Plan will be a co-management plan with Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Mutunga," the report said.
"There is already a working group in place… that has been meeting and working alongside council officers on the delivery of this co-management plan."
The rūnanga pouwhakahaere Mitchell Ritai wrote confirming the iwi had six members on the working group and urging Te Huinga Taumatua to support the creation of a new plan.
"We have appreciated the opportunity to work together with NPDC to contribute to the design of the Onaero Reserve Management Plan… [in] a number of design meetings, an online wānanga with our whānau, and also an onsite wānanga with our whānau after our AGM" in February.
Occupied for centuries by Ngāti Mutunga before confiscation by the Crown, the site nestles beneath historic Puketapu Pā and Pukemiro Pā and urupā, which face each other across the mouth of the Onaero River 25km northeast of the city.
The seven-hectare reserve includes a public campground, open space with picnicking areas, and a playground, river, and beach access, with 17 private baches on perpetual leases.
A full-colour draft 'concept masterplan' to upgrade the reserve features tree planting, paving, more coastal protective planting, carvings, and interpretive signs including the history of Ngāti Mutunga and the eight pā that were on the river.
"This concept uses materiality, organic forms and planting to emphasise the relationship Ngāti Mutunga and hapū have to the awa and whenua of Onaero."
The bridge across the Onaero River would be strengthened and guardrails rebuilt featuring timber battens and 11 vertical panels carved to represent the 11 streams that feed into the awa.
Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Mutunga's representative on Te Huinga Taumatua Gina MacDonald confirmed the iwi was fully behind Ritai's letter.
"We're very appreciative of the council staff members working on the project with us.
"It's exciting for us as uri of Ngāti Mutunga to be able to see ourselves in our landscape, and that the council's committed to bringing that to life with us."
The report to the council said co-management also met NPDC's goals.
"This process will appropriately reflect council's goal of partnership with tangata whenua and the stewardship or kaitiakitanga of the whenua that reserve management planning embraces."
Te Huinga Taumatua co-chair councillor Gordon Brown praised the shared approach as a way to ensure iwi and hapū were involved from the start.
"It may well be a model for us to follow, and almost include as a policy, in terms of the effect of engagement that works for everybody."
The council's Strategy and Operations Committee and the Clifton Community Board have already voted for a new management plan to be prepared and Te Huinga Taumatua added its approval.
The recommendation next goes before the full council in a fortnight, and if passed the "intent to review and prepare a plan" will be publicly notified, with stakeholders and communities surrounding the reserve carrying the most weight.
Leaseholders of Onaero Bay Campground and of the baches and users of the reserve are noted as affected parties and council officers have already talked to them.
The plan would be drawn up and publicly notified for at least two months for more submissions.
Councillors would consider that feedback before voting on a final plan.
Making the concept plan a reality would go through the usual council budget and Long Term Plan process.
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