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Ihumātao: Crown considers loan for council to buy land

Ihumātao: Crown considers loan for Auckland Council to buy land
Jo Moir, Political Reporter

Discussions are under way for Auckland Council to buy the disputed Ihumātao land in a bid to break the three-year deadlock.

campground at the
protest site, with thents, placards and flags

Photo: RNZ / Jordan Bond

Sources have told RNZ the Crown is considering loaning money to the council so it can purchase the land from Fletcher Residential, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fletcher Building.

Fletcher is seeking $40 million for the property - more than double the $19m it paid in 2014.

RNZ understands the government is keen to get the controversial land dispute wrapped up by the new year to avoid it overshadowing the annual pilgrimage to Rātana and Waitangi.

Some commentators had speculated that Waikato-Tainui might purchase the land, but that prospect ground to a halt.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson is leading the talks around a resolution. In a statement to RNZ, he said the government was continuing efforts to find a solution that respected "all parties including the Crown, mana whenua and Fletchers".

"These matters are complex and are taking some time to work through, but all parties are working on negotiating a solution that satisfies everyone involved," he said.

Ihumātao is located next to the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve in Māngere - home to New Zealand's earliest market gardens and a significant archaeological site on land considered wahi tapu, or sacred, by local hapū and iwi.

Heritage New Zealand announced this month it was considering expanding the borders of the Stonefields reserve to include the disputed land and increasing its status to the highest level of heritage recognition.

"Whatever recommendation is finally made by Heritage New Zealand will then go to Auckland Council for it to consider whether to change the land's current status," Mr Robertson told RNZ.

Even if the land's heritage status was increased, the status of the special housing area would remain intact, meaning the land could still be used to build papakāinga housing - homes designed by Māori for Māori.

Public submissions on the heritage status are open until 29 November with a final decision expected no later than the end of February.

SOUL co-founder Pania Newton at Ihumātao. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Morning Report today: "The only thing I can confirm is since the king and kiingitanga handed to us some of the outcome of their work with mana whenua that we have been working really hard on finding a solution and that's work that's ongoing so I cannot confirm any final resolution, any details around anything beyond the fact that we in fact have remained involved in this issue since July and continue to work hard to find a solution.

"Those are the principles of course that we've been working with," - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern duration 9:24
from Morning Report

Click a link to play audio (or right-click to download) in either
MP3 format or in OGG format.

"We've got a couple of principles here we are working to. One of course is the will and desire of mana whenua and the other, importantly, is not undermining the treaty ... the third of course is that Fletchers have gone into a development arrangement here in good faith and of course have development interests here too ... and I am confident we will find a way through, but again, I'm not going to speculate."

She said the Heritage New Zealand moves to extend greater protections to the land did change things but said that only affected what could happen on the land if Auckland Council took a series of particular steps.

How did we get here
Explainer: Why Ihumātao is being occupied by 'protectors'
Ihumātao land battle: a timeline

Fletcher Building bought the land in 2014. Property records show the company paid $19 million, when the rateable value was $11.5m.

That same year, the government and Auckland Council designated 32 hectares adjacent to the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve as a Special Housing Area (SHA).

Not long after, a group named Save Our Unique Landscape or SOUL - led by Pania Newton - voiced concern and promised to fight the housing development.

On 5 November 2016, about 20 community members started camping by the side of the road. A month later, the land was transferred to Fletcher Residential with the plan to build 480 houses at the site.

Some campaigners refused to leave, sleeping in caravans, sheds, tents and even an empty boat, but it was not till July this year that a groundswell of public support began to spring up for the SOUL movement after eviction notices were handed out to those occupying the village on 23 July.

By the next day, many more had flocked to Ihumātao and the police were called in, resulting in arrests.

people waving tino
rangitriatanga flags, and other people

People continue to occupy Ihumatao after protestors were served an eviction notice which led to a stand-off with police. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

On 26 July, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called for a halt to any building work while government and other parties tried to broker a solution.

In an unusual move after buying the land, Fletcher Building struck a compromise with Te Kawerau Iwi Tribal Authority to return 8ha to mana whenua.

SOUL has long railed against that decision, saying their concerns as mana whenua were not being recognised.

Kiingitanga held meetings with mana whenua and in September, Kiingi Tūheitia announced consensus had been reached and the only solution was for the land to be returned to mana whenua.

Kiingi Tūheitia conveyed that view to the government and urged it to negotiate with Fletchers for the return of the land to its "rightful owners''.

Since then, any progress has all but stalled as negotiations moved behind closed doors.

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