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Auckland Council ignores community concerns

Auckland Council ignores community concerns, pushes through unwanted corporate development on sensitive site. Questions remain around inappropriate OIO approval.

Auckland Council has failed once again to uphold democracy and the clearly expressed wishes of a community. In this latest blunder, Auckland Council planning commissioners have given the go-ahead for a housing development by foreign-owned Fletcher Residential on highly sensitive land at Ihumātao, prized by archaeologists, historians, mana whenua, local residents and people all across Auckland as a unique cultural and heritage landscape.

Over the last year, community action group Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) have been working to protect the land for future generations. SOUL wants to protect Ihumātao, including the proposed SHA site, as an integral part of the internationally significant Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve, for the enjoyment of all Auckland residents.

SOUL have today affirmed their ongoing commitment to protect Ihumātao. “We are not patrons of a lost cause; we are witnesses for justice and for that reason the struggle will continue,” confirmed community leader Frances Hancock, of Māngere Bridge.

The plan variation and consent hearings took place at Manukau City in February 2016. The developer, Fletcher Residential, applied for the land to be rezoned and for consent enabling a 480 unit housing project. The overseas buyer Fletcher’s purchase agreement — understood to be more than $20 million dollars for the 33ha rural block — depended on the outcome delivered in Thursday’s decision document.

The land in question is a 33ha rural block on Oruarangi Road adjoining the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve. It is recognised by the New Zealand Government and this Council decision document that this land was confiscated in 1863 from the ancestors of those who now seek to protect it. Peaceful Māori residents of Ihumātao were ordered off their land in an abhorrent abuse of colonial power, in the manufactured conflict that was the New Zealand Land Wars. The land was then given as a free grant to the Wallace family in 1865. This family have farmed that land until now.

The Manukau Council resolved to buy the block in 2007 and incorporate it in the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve. The owners rejected the offer and appealed to the Environment Court to have the land rezoned from 'Rural' to 'Future Urban'. The Judge decided in the owners' favour and the land was rezoned 'Future Urban'. Fletcher agreed to buy the land from the Wallace family, conditional on the consent being granted for a housing development.

Although the land had not been advertised for sale as stipulated by New Zealand law, the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) allowed the sale to go ahead, with retrospective advertisement of the land in the Manukau Courier. There, the land was deceptively advertised as 'rural' land even though the rezoning to 'Future Urban' had already been approved. This injustice and unfair dealing should not alienate this sensitive landscape from the Council and iwi who want to protect it.

Despite numerous and considered opposition, Auckland Council continues on a path to forever change the landscape of Ihumātao, removing one of Auckland’s last rural sanctuaries in favour of expensive housing that could, and should, be sited where infrastructure is better.

In September 2015 Auckland Council refined and consolidated criteria for SHAs in Auckland. SOUL notes that if Council use their current, and now refined, criteria to appraise the Oruarangi Rd site as an SHA, it is quickly apparent that the land is unsuitable. SOUL spokesperson Brendan Corbett said, “Fletcher's application should have failed on all grounds. Auckland Council should never have let the application proceed to the consent hearing.” SOUL now calls on Fletcher Residential to exercise corporate responsibility and work with stakeholders to find a creative solution.

At the February consent hearing, a submission by kuia Betty King summed up the consequences of development for local Māori. “I grew up in Ihumātao, looking across this land to our sacred maunga, Te Puketaapapatanga a Hape.” Mrs King added that although the land was farmed by the Wallace family, “we always knew this land was waahi tapu. Although the land had been unjustly taken from my ancestors, we returned to live here, knowing that it was our land, and in the hope that one day our mana over the land would be recognised. This housing development would be the end of that dream.”

ENDS

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