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Fletcher seeks urgent talks on Ihumatao stalemate

By Pattrick Smellie

Sept. 19 (BusinessDesk) - Fletcher Building is "disappointed" no resolution emerged from talks brokered by the Kingitanga on the future of the company's delayed housing development at Ihumatao.

The process has effectively delivered a setback for the 480-home development by uniting previously opposing groups claiming mana whenua, or ancestral connection, to the Fletchers-owned land at the centre of the dispute. Auckland Council, which approved the development, values the land at $36 million.

"Six weeks ago the Prime Minister requested that Fletcher Building put a hold on our housing development to allow time for discussions between government and iwi to take place," the company says in short written statement that it says will be its only comment on the issue. "We have not been a party to those discussions and we are disappointed to see they have not produced a resolution.

"We will now seek urgent discussions with all parties to inform our position."

The Kingitanga mediators announced yesterday that the six-week consultation had concluded with all mana whenua now supporting the full return of the privately owned land to Maori.

New Zealand First minister Shane Jones, a former Maori Fisheries Commission chair, said he was disappointed Tainui - leaders of the Kingitanga movement - hadn't bought the land themselves.

"The King has said it would be nice for everyone to have a pony and someone else go and solve the problem," he told OneNews.

One branch of mana whenua - Te Kawerau a Maki - partnered with Fletcher to achieve the gifting back of some land regarded as historically significant and the construction of some tribal housing as part of the development. Fletcher declined to comment when asked whether its partnership at TKAM was effectively over or what the delay was costing the company.

However, head of research at Craigs Investment Partners, Grant Swanepoel, said the delay would not compromise the troubled Australasian construction firm's targets for the current financial year.

"All I've heard is that there's nothing in this year's forecasts for any development there," said Swanepoel. "They know they just have to play the waiting game."

Fletcher Building shares opened slightly higher this morning at $5.06.

The Kingitanga process has effectively thrown the problem back into the government's lap. Coalition partner New Zealand First has been clear it opposes a Crown purchase and return of the land to Maori, since it would create precedent for any other land claims already dealt with through the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process to be reopened via protest and an appeal to heritage values.

BusinessDesk understands the Labour Maori caucus is urging a land swap that would effectively compensate Fletcher by making a different development site, on Crown land, available since affordable housing projects are still a government priority.

However, the process is complicated by an application to extend heritage protections for historic stonefields at Ihumatao, where early Maori settlers used volcanic rock in the area to create large-scale food-producing gardens.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is also Minister of Culture and Heritage, yesterday demonstrated a willingness to purchase private land on behalf of the nation when she announced the government would spend $4.5 million to buy the home of 19th-century suffragist Kate Sheppard, in Christchurch.

(BusinessDesk)

ends

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