Alienating Maori-owned land at Matauri Bay so it can be sold under Maori freehold title is the only way a Far North group can save its 500ha of prime coastal land, the treasurer of the group says.
Maori landowners were forced to subdivide some of their 500ha of land at Matauri Bay, in the Far North, after a failed 2001 business venture left their Matauri X Corporation $6 million in debt. That debt has soared to $15 million because of penalty interest payments the shareholders could not pay to Strategic Finance, which owned the debt.
The group set up Matauri Bay Developments Ltd to sell the subdivision - with 81 sections - but as the subdivision was classed as Maori leasehold land there were no takers. As well, an arson attack on the sales office for the subdivision in January is understood to have frightened off buyers.
But with Matauri X having to stump up the $15 million by May 2015 the subdivision has to be converted into Maori freehold title to make the sections more attractive to buyers, Matauri X treasurer John Royal said.
On November 14 the Maori Land Court will hear an application from Matauri Bay Properties - which is half-owned by Matauri X - to convert the first 10 sections from the subdivision from Maori leasehold land into Maori freehold land under Te Ture Whenua Act 1993. Mr Royal said one issue he's keen for the Maori Land Court to resolve is that when Maori leasehold land is converted to Maori freehold land it must be offered back first to the original Maori owners.
He said the subdivision was divisive among Matauri X members, but all had to understand that if the subdivision didn't sell and Matauri X didn't raise the $15 million in time, the shareholders would lose all their land.
"My view is that we need to convert the land [to Maori freehold title] because that makes it much more attractive to potential buyers. Maori leasehold is too restrictive," Mr Royal said.
"We'd like to get general freehold title [for the subdivision sections] but that's not possible ... but we need to be in a position where we can sell them so that the rest of the land can be saved."
It may still be difficult to sell the sections, given the attacks that had been made on the subdivision sales office, but he hoped a united way forward would be decided at Matauri X's AGM on November 23, by which time the application may have been granted.
Former bosses of the Matauri X, including then-chairman Hemi Rua Rapata, borrowed money from Bridgecorp Finance and Instant Funding in 2001 to invest in Eternal Waters mineral water company. The venture was expected to return up to $18 million over six years, but went belly-up. Matauri X has 430 shareholders, with former Maori Affairs Minister Dover Samuels the single largest shareholder.