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19,000-strong Ihumaatao petition to be delivered to Council

Resolute political will and bold action are now needed to break the impasse over the high-profile land dispute at Ihumaatao, near Auckland International Airport.

Following the powerful and moving hikoi through Wellington streets on March 12, to present their petition to Government, the mana whenua co-founders of the Save Our Unique Landscape Campaign (SOUL) will now take the near 19,000-strong petition to Auckland Council on April 9.

SOUL aims to stop an unwanted, high-cost Fletcher housing development on 32 hectares of land that is part of a rare cultural heritage landscape at Ihumaatao.

The land, adjoining the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve, was unjustly confiscated in 1863. Settlers farmed it until their descendants sold it for around $20m to Fletcher Building Limited in 2016. Fletcher has approval to build 480 houses and, with no legal impediments to stop the development; works could begin any day.

“Obviously there is a deep hurt attached to this land and all the consents in the world can’t wash that away. The Government and Auckland Council must front up and exercise responsibility for the mess they created,” says SOUL co-founder Qiane Matata-Sipu.

With so much controversy now attached to the land, Fletcher indicated in a recent New Zealand Herald article that it is a willing seller, but as yet neither the Government nor Council have shown any willingness to stop the impending desecration of this sacred and special place.

“Auckland Council does not currently have Māori heritage sites protected on private land and up until now has ignored mana whenua and community voices objecting to the development,” adds Matata-Sipu. “Our people have suffered enough for the greater good of Auckland. Council should be ashamed of its track record at Ihumaatao.”

SOUL’s petition #ProtectIhumātao is seeking to protect the land for all New Zealanders. SOUL wants Government and Auckland Council to buy the land or mandate a process that comes up with an outcome everyone can live with.

SOUL’s efforts for justice at Ihumaatao have uncovered deeply disturbing information about Council neglect and deception.

“Council has badly undermanaged the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve for years, resulting in archaeological degradation and serious health and safety hazards for users. The neighbouring Council-owned Rennie Block was rezoned by stealth, without any consultation, allowing for 258 houses,” says Brendan Corbett, a SOUL spokesperson.

Recently, as a result of SOUL’s persistence, Council agreed to review the status of the Historic Reserve and rezone the Rennie Block so it is protected for all New Zealanders, in perpetuity.

Corbett adds: “Emails, acquired under official information, show Fletcher interest in the Rennie Block. Another email trail, also gained under official information, contains evidence that Council Officers knew mana whenua were strongly opposed to the Fletcher development but failed to alert Councillors.”

Groups standing in solidarity with SOUL say there is a unique opportunity for the Crown and Auckland Council to secure public ownership, then negotiate a just future for the land and mana whenua. The historical injustices attached to this land cannot be ignored.

“Our people know how to play the long game and we’re not giving up,” says Pania Newton, SOUL co-founder. “It’s time the Council address the wrong decision it made, when it recommended to the Government that this land should become a special housing area.”

The prospect of the petition handover in Aotea Square is galvanising interest. More than 300 people joined the hikoi in Wellington and, now on home soil, SOUL is predicting more supporters at the April 9 event. Mayor Phil Goff and Councillor Penny Hulse, Chair of the Council Environment and Community Committee, have agreed to accept the petition.

“We’re looking forward to what the Mayor has to say. When we started this Campaign, most Aucklanders had no idea where Ihumaatao was. But four years later thousands have found their way to our whenua to learn the history and experience the beauty of this place. Councillors seeking re-election should take note,” adds Newton.

SOUL argues that the original confiscation cannot be ignored and the natural, conservation and heritage values of this landscape make it crucially important to Auckland and the nation.

“We’re doing everything possible to avoid confrontation on the land, but if the bulldozers and police arrive, SOUL predicts others will come to defend this land from destruction,” says Newton. “Any further injury to this land is an injury to us. This land defines our identity, health and wellbeing.”

Join mana whenua and SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape) on Tuesday, 9 April, 11.00 am to 1.00 pm at Aotea Square to Take a Stand for the Land. The petition handover is scheduled for noon and the Mayor has agreed to speak.

© Scoop Media

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