alks over the future of Taranaki Maunga are active and close to conclusion, says an iwi negotiator.

The settlement talks stretch back seven years, and the Crown and the eight iwi of Taranaki agreed in 2017 to share responsibility for the mountain, which would become a legal person Te Kāhui Tupua.

Last June the negotiation team said talks over the previous 18 months had worked out how the new law would work, in a Collective Redress Deed for iwi ratification.

A signing date was booked for December – but the ceremony was cancelled and the talks went dark

Now negotiator Liana Poutu says talks are again underway and a final agreement is close.

“Yeah we’re actively negotiating and we’re really hopeful that we’ll get things across the line.”

“We’re really close, so we’re waiting on confirmation of some potential initialling dates, which will be in the next couple of months.”

Although the ratification process is close, Poutu was reluctant to put a date on it as previous expectations had not borne fruit.

“But we definitely hope it’s very soon, and absolutely our aim is this first half of the year.”

Local Democracy Reporting understood talks had stumbled over how commercial interests including concessions would be handled.

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Poutu said it was a complex issue.

“It’s not so much a stumbling block, it’s more trying to navigate how things work in practice. Because it’s one thing to agree ‘yes we’ll do this’ but actually making that work in a practical sense is another discussion, and making it work technically and practically is the challenge.”

She said similar considerations arose when deciding to underwrite and lead the design and build of a replacement for the North Egmont Visitor Centre – but commerce had to fit with other goals.

“We did some modelling to understand where the numbers might fall in terms of an investment by Te Ātiawa.”

“[But] there are more than commercial, economic development gains to be had from this building, and the thing that we’re really focusing on is that cultural reconnection of our people with our tupuna.”

The maunga agreement as outlined last June would see iwi have equal say with the Crown in governing Taranaki Maunga and the national park, Te Papakura o Taranaki.

A new group called Te Tōpuni Ngarahu, made up of representatives from the eight iwi, would act as the face of the legal personality of the maunga.

It would jointly approve management plans with the Minister of Conservation.

Those plans would be developed by another group, Te Tōpuni Kōkōrangi, half appointed by iwi and half by the Crown but all acting on behalf of Te Kāhui Tupua – the mountain and ranges.

National park planning was normally led by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and conservation boards, with input from Treaty partners – and then approved by the New Zealand Conservation Authority with no Māori involvement.

Te Papakura o Taranaki would remain a national park and DOC retains day-to-day management duties, as iwi were wary of the liability that comes with unfettered public access, which was a Crown bottom line.

The mountain was taken in 1865 as part of the confiscation of Māori land for “rebellion” in the Taranaki Wars.

In 1978 the mountain was vested in the Taranaki Māori Trust Board but then immediately gifted back to the nation. The Waitangi Tribunal found little evidence that hapū had agreed to the switch.

After iwi ratification of the Deed, there would be a formal signing event, and the agreement would then go to Parliament to become law.