John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Iwi want first right of refusal on land sales

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Puhirake Ihaka
Puhirake Ihaka

Tauranga Maori iwi and hapu groups are seeking the right of first refusal whenever the city council wants to dispose of surplus land.

The rewording of a council policy making it clear there would be no right of first refusal granted to tangata whenua met with resistance from prominent Maori yesterday.

Four representatives put their views to councillors during the hearing of submissions on the draft policy that sets out how the council would handle tangata whenua approaches for its surplus land.

The policy was triggered by Maori seeking ownership of the reserve at the base of Mauao holding the Mount Hot Pools, the Beachside Holiday Park and the Mount Surf Live Saving Club's pavilion.

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Puhirake Ihaka of Tauranga's Tangata Whenua Collective said it was their understanding that tangata whenua would be given the right of first refusal on land that was special to Maori and land that was not so significant.

The principle had been that tangata whenua and the council were building up a relationship that gave iwi and hapu the first look at the land, he said.

"Suddenly we felt that the goalposts were removed."

Mr Ihaka highlighted how the Crown had used the Public Works Act to take land which it then gave to the council, such as the water catchment areas in the Pyes Pa foothills. Some of this land was earmarked for sale by the council. He said tangata whenua felt they had been on the back foot since the changes became known.

Carlton Bidois said the draft policy did not reflect tangata whenua aspirations. Any land being disposed of by the council should be fully investigated, including its history, to allow tangata whenua the opportunity to buy the land.

He said that when land came up for sale, tangata whenua had significantly more interest than the general public. This went back to Treaty grievances.

Mr Bidois said it was a first right of refusal, not to offer the land to tangata whenua at half price. They would pay the market value for the land.

Councillor Steve Morris asked how the council could get the market value without going to the market and going through an open sales process.

Welcome Bay submitter Richard Prince complained the council was effectively rewriting a policy that went through an extensive submission process little more than a year ago.

He said first right of refusal had the whiff of sweetheart deals. "This is particularly true where income streams are involved such as the claims for the Mauao Recreational Reserve and the Mobil site on Chapel St ... sale by public auction is fully transparent and allows all interested parties to be involved in the sale process. It gives a clear benchmark as to value."

The council will meet on May 9 to decide the policy.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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