A former Western Bay District councillor is demanding answers on why a key decision on the proposal to transfer ownership of Matakana Island's Panepane Point back to Maori was taken in secret.

"Why was the discussion not held in the open meeting so the ideologies of the mayor and councillors could be fully understood by ratepayers," Mike Lally said.

He was referring to the December 17 council meeting which unanimously supported commencing work on a Local Act of Parliament to provide for the transfer of the 200ha block at the southern tip of Matakana back to the island's five hapu.

The former chairman of the Te Puke Community Board, who was not re-elected in 2013, said he was talking about transparency.

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Why was the discussion not held in the open meeting so the ideologies of the mayor and councillors could be fully understood by ratepayers.

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"Council in its wisdom has decided to initiate a process under an Act of Parliament which provides for the transfer of ownership based on the 'I want philosophy' to tribal interests of Matakana Island and Tauranga."

Mr Lally was concerned about the precedent it would set if other ratepayer assets were sought by tribal interests.

Read more: Plan to return island block to Maori

Western Bay Mayor Ross Paterson responded that he believed the right decision had been made to keep it confidential at the meeting. He said the decision had not been to transfer ownership but to decide on the way forward to engage the public on the proposal to transfer ownership to an entity representative of the island's tangata whenua.

"It is the start of a process," he said.

The land was acquired by the council when the harbour board was abolished under the local government reforms of 1989.

Panepane Point was originally taken from its Maori owners in 1923 under the Public Works Act for navigation purposes.

Western Bay Mayor Ross Paterson. Photo/file
Western Bay Mayor Ross Paterson. Photo/file

Mr Paterson said options on the way forward had previously been work-shopped by the council and the discussions at the meeting had not been lengthy, lasting about 15 minutes.

He said the council wanted to be able to tell tangata whenua itself.

Taking the discussion in public would have meant the decision was communicated to affected parties through the media or other channels of communication first.

Omokoroa councillor Garry Webber said he had been extremely happy with the process the council had gone through so far for Panepane Point.

Using an Act of Parliament meant it would go through a full public consultation process - the same process used for Mauao.

"People who say we are not being transparent may not understand the background. The decision we took was to give it maximum public exposure," he said.

The reason for confidentiality set out in the agenda of the December 17 meeting was "to enable council to carry on negotiations (including commercial and industrial) without prejudice or disadvantage".