After months of silence on Ihumātao, the government is considering a loan to Auckland Council to buy the occupied Fletcher-owned land, according to an RNZ report.
What is the dispute over the land?
Fletcher Residential bought a section of land in South Auckland in 2014 for $19m with plans to build a 480-house development. A group of cousins who whakapapa to the area became aware of the plan and formed Save Our Unique Landscapes (SOUL), a group that’s spent the good part of three years occupying the whenua against this development.
So the land is important to them?
The land that was intended to be developed is right on the edge of the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve, a very important whenua for local iwi. The area was a pā site as well as the first market garden location in New Zealand, and parts are considered wāhi tapu as they contain ancestral remains.
It’s been years since the first occupation, why hasn’t an agreement been made?
In July of 2019 the protectors at Ihumātao were issued with trespass notices and ordered to vacate the land, which they refused to do. This sparked a huge police presence, leading to an even bigger turnout of supporters for the SOUL movement, and the issue became headline news.
So what’s brought it back into the media now?
After months of government silence over the issue, a report by RNZ this morning says there may be plans for the Crown to loan money to Auckland Council so they can buy the land off Fletchers.
That’s good, right?
Yes, it’s really good! The problem is that Auckland Council won’t confirm whether it’s actually happening or not, and the government is being equally vague.
Finance minister Grant Roberston said in a statement that “the Government’s focus is on supporting a resolution that respects all parties including the Crown, mana whenua and Fletchers, and we are continuing to work on finding that resolution.”
And a statement from the Auckland Mayor’s office said “The council is continuing to support the government, mana whenua and other parties throughout this negotiation process. Council will be helpful where possible.”
Can anyone else confirm the plan?
The Spinoff asked SOUL, who said they would not be giving statements until they have heard confirmation that the plan reported in RNZ is actually on the cards. It seems as though SOUL hasn’t heard anything about this either.
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern also spoke to RNZ this morning, but she said about the same as Auckland Council and her colleague, Grant Robertson.
“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,” she said.
How much money is Fletcher asking for the land?
Since buying it for $19m in 2014, Fletcher has more than doubled their asking price for the whenua. Now they’re asking for $40m, which is obviously a bit more than the SOUL protectors could crowdsource and why they’ve been asking for the government’s help for years.
Is anyone against the government using $40m to purchase this piece of historic land?
Leader of the opposition Simon Bridges says the purchase of Ihumātao would “open Pandora’s box” to other finalised treaty settlements. He says it shows a “complete disregard” for property rights and that the prime minister should have never got involved in the first place.
“This is an appalling use of taxpayers’ money and the Government needs to rule it out,” he said in a statement.
“It’s been four months since the Prime Minister got involved. It’s time to finally put a stop to this. The protestors need to go home and the Government needs to rule out a loan.”
Are there any other factors at play in terms of the purchase?
Heritage New Zealand has imposed an interim increase of the heritage status of the area, increasing it to a category 1 historic place by including the Fletcher-owned land within the boundary of the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve. It will make a final decision on whether to make this change permanent early next year.
Are there other options if this one doesn’t eventuate?
There was speculation earlier in the year that Waikato Tainui might purchase the land, but an iwi spokesperson said this deal was never made.
SOUL founder Qiane Matata-Sipu told The Spinoff earlier this year that the protectors would not be leaving until a solution had been found. “We’ve been here for 800 years and we’ll be here for 800 more and if it’s not me it will be my daughter. I’m so actively involved in this kaupapa and sacrificing time with my family now because I don’t want her to have to do this when she gets older.”