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Goff refuses to answer questions on Ihumātao

Goff refuses to answer questions on possible Auckland Council Ihumātao buyout

Mayor Phil Goff is refusing to say whether he supports Auckland Council purchasing disputed land at Ihumātao.

Goff was mostly quiet on the issue during his recent successful mayoral campaign and has refused to answer specific questions in the wake of reports Auckland Council could receive a loan to purchase the protested site.

Meanwhile, both councillors representing the Manukau ward, which encompasses the Ihumātao, have thrown their support behind returning the land to mana whenua.

RNZ last week reported discussions were taking place for Auckland Council to buy the land, bringing the three-year protest and occupation to an end. Sources said the Crown was considering lending money to the council, which would make the purchase.

The land is earmarked for development by Fletcher Residential.

Goff was asked whether he was aware of any proposed arrangements involving Auckland Council buying the land, as well as whether he supported the idea of council purchasing the site.

In an emailed response, his spokesman failed to answer both questions, instead saying:

“Auckland Council is continuing to support the government, mana whenua and other parties throughout this negotiation process. Any proposal to resolve the issue will need to be developed alongside all stakeholders.”

Goff was then asked for his personal opinion as a publicly elected official.

Again, his office refused to answer.

While Goff remained silent, his Governing Body colleagues representing the Manukau Ward had their say.

“I haven’t been involved in any of the discussions either, so a lot of this is rumour mill to me as well,” second-term councillor Efeso Collins said on Thursday.

“Look, at the end of the day my position is the same as what the kingitanga have kind of come out and said, which is let’s return the land back to the mana whenua.”

In September, The Māori King said mana whenua had reached a unified position on the future of Ihumātao and wanted the land back.

“How it happens is something I probably need a bit more detail on,” Collins added.

“So if it means that council gets a loan or … the state comes out and says we’ll give you the loan and you guys work out how that happens.

“We’ve obviously got considerations to make around our debt-to-revenue targets and caps, but if it works, and if people see that as the best option, then I’m more than happy to support any option that’s going to return the land back to mana whenua.”

Fellow Manukau councillor Alf Filipaina also threw his support behind mana whenua.

“I’ve always been on record that I support mana whenua and that will continue to be the same,” he said.

Fletcher has spent four years planning Ōruarangi - a housing project of 480 homes on the 32 hectare site.

The land in dispute sat next to the 100ha Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve, as well as the small village of Ihumātao.

It is a designated Special Housing Area, approved by the Government, Auckland Council and Heritage NZ for residential development.

Following initial attempts to stop the project, Te Kawerau a Maki struck a deal with Fletcher, which included some of the built homes being placed into a shared equity scheme with the iwi.

The company planned to start earthworks in July, when protesters served an eviction notice, but the occupiers blocked heavy machinery.

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