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Muriel Newman: A Travesty of Justice

Fri, 23 Aug 2002

A Travesty of Justice
Weekly Column by Dr Muriel Newman MP

When Pete applied to his local council for consent to subdivide his property, he was told he needed to gain the approval not only of his neighbours, but the local iwi as well. While his neighbours agreed with the plans, the local iwi objected. They claimed the property contained sites of significance to Maori.

The case went to a council hearing and the objectors were over-ruled. They appealed and the case was referred to the Environment Court. 18 months later and $10,000 lighter, Pete received consent and the subdivision went ahead.

Councils all over the country wrestle with similar cases on a daily basis. There are instances where more than one hapü claim they should be consulted, yet differ in their recommendations. The now infamous delay in the Whitianga Waterways project was the result of such disagreements.

In some cases iwi consultation has become big business with thousands of dollars changing hands to smooth the way for the granting of consents.

The costs, delays and uncertainty caused by this process have caused some councils to question the original intention of iwi consultation in the Resource Management Act. Rather than consult over every council application, there is now a growing consensus that consultation with iwi should be carried out when district plans are being prepared. At that stage, sites of significance to Maori could be identified on the district plan in a similar manner to the way to historic buildings are noted.

If such sites were clearly marked on district plans then consultation with iwi would be limited to projects involving those sites. That would bring a far greater degree of clarity and certainty to the planning process.

In 1997 during the District Plan consultation process, the Whangarei District Council outlined to local iwi their proposal to identify sites of significance to Maori on their planning maps. Their proposal was rejected.

In 1998 the council again raised the issue. The iwi responded, saying, "it is impossible for Maori to isolate a tapu to an exclusively defined area, as the customary rituals that are carried out cover a very large geographical area". However, in March 1999, they presented a submission to council, which identified an extensive area of land that they wanted noted on the District Plan as being of significance to Maori.

While the council recognised its duty to protect, as far as practical, sites of significance to Tangata Whenua, given that the area outlined affected 758 private properties with 1500 affected parties, the council rejected the submission. Instead it proposed a further process of consultation with the iwi to more accurately pinpoint the sites of significance by obtaining documentary evidence of their historical and cultural importance.

Iwi rejected the council's proposal and instead on the 15th of August 2001 they applied to the Environment Court for a court order to force the council to include all of the sites that they had identified in their submission, on the District Plan maps. The decision on whether the 758 properties indeed contain sites of significance to Maori now rests with the Environment Court. By making a Reference to the court, the decision has been taken out of council's hands.

Meanwhile the owners of the 758 properties now have noted on their Land Information Memoranda (LIM) reports that a submission exists to the effect that their property is of significance to Maori. Even though the council rejected this claim the fact that the case is before the court means that it has to be included in the LIM reports.

As a result, the council is now receiving threats of claims from people who want to sell their property, but are finding that when the LIM report is presented showing that the property might be considered to be of significance to Maori, the sale and purchase agreement is being cancelled. At this stage the only recourse for these property owners is to register under Section 274 of the Resource Management Act as an affected party to the Environment Court action.

While it is commendable that Maori have finally decided to participate in the district plan process by identifying sites they regard as significant, it is unfortunate that they have cast their net unreasonably wide and affected so many innocent people. In fact, this abuse of the process is a travesty.

They should immediately withdraw their claim to the Environment Court and should restrict the sites that are to be noted on the district plan, to only those sites that can be established as sites of genuine significance. Nothing less is acceptable.

Dr Muriel Newman, MP for ACT New Zealand, writes a weekly opinion piece on topical issues for a number of community newspapers. You are welcome to forward this column to anyone you think may be interested.


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