The Prime Minister’s hope that she might be able to announce an Ihumatao settlement at Waitangi this week looks unlikely.
Talks are to continue in the background of the Waitangi celebrations over the next two days to try and resolve the impasse over the Ihumatao block of land near Auckland airport. They are expected to begin in Auckland today.
The land has been the subject of a prolonged protest by the Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) movement; a group of mainly younger Maori who contest the decision of the local Kaumatua in 2017 to sell the land to Fletchers for a housing development.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last July announced that no further building would take place at Ihumātao while the Government and other parties negotiate a peaceful solution to the dispute.
Those talks were then taken over by Tainui and King Tuhetia, but POLITIK understands that though the King has indicated they have ended, there are a number of loose ends that need tying up.
To that end, the former CEO of the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment David Smol, is negotiating on behalf of Finance Minister, Grant Robertson. Staff from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet are also believed to be involved.
The fundamental proposition is that the Government would provide around $40 million for the Auckland Council to purchase the land off Fletchers and have it turned into a heritage site.
The local iwi, Te Akitai, have long argued that it was a heritage site and that argument was accepted by the Manukau City Council.
But when Manukau was absorbed in Auckland City in 2010 that somehow got overlooked.
The heritage status of the site has been contested and was the subject of an appeal by the SOUL group to the Environment Court in 2017. The Court rejected the appeal and approved Fletchers going ahead with the housing development.
However last year Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga revised its original declaration that the site was not a Category 1 historic place.
Chief Executive Andrew Coleman said the decision had been based on “further extensive research” and proposed that the site become Category One and that its boundaries be extended.
Category 1 historic places are of special or outstanding historical or cultural significance or value.
Auckland mayor Phil Goff appears to accept his.
Goff told POLITIK last week that the Council was trying to assist the resolution process.
“This place, Ihumatao is probably the site of the longest human habitation in Auckland and a special place for that reason, “ he said.
“It’s never completed until it’s completed, but I think that there is a will on all three sides to find a way through.”
POLITIK understands that the current focus of the negotiations involves getting the local iwi on side. It appears they feel they were not adequately consulted during the Kingitanga negotiations.
That will be the purpose of the next two days.
But even if Smol can go back to Robertson with an agreement involving Fletchers, the Council, Te Akitai and Kingitanga, Robertson then has to get it through Cabinet, and NZ First are privately indicating they will oppose it.
This is a key issue for the Government; one that the Prime Minister has staked her mana on and one that could define its relationship with its vitally important Maori electorate.
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