Legal proceedings started this week over a claim for a large slice of waterfront land on the Te Atatu Peninsula.
The claimants say their court action is the biggest land claim by Pakeha and will be for 60ha of seaside property worth $50 million.
The land is at Harbour View in the Gunner Dr/Riverstone Rd area.
Waitakere City Council's legal services manager, Denis Sheard, said yesterday the council had not formed a view about the land under dispute but he doubted it would be handed back to the claimants. The council was still assessing its legal position.
"It may well be that this is a matter that will need to be litigated to clarify the position," Mr Sheard said, noting the claimants had already placed caveats on titles and demanded assurances the council would not sell it.
"There won't be huge enthusiasm among elected members of the council to see a strategic open space for the city passed out of council's ownership," he said.
Beneficiaries of the late Jimmy Williams, who owned 9.7ha of the land half a century ago, are the first to begin legal proceedings.
They filed an application in the High Court at Auckland on Wednesday for a declaration that the land would be offered back to the Williams family.
Paul Cassin, a Wellington lawyer specialising in the Public Works Act and representing the family, said further proceedings on behalf of other claimants would be filed today.
Mr Williams' son, Charlie Williams, said his father had died full of regret about losing his land.
"My father was very bitter at the way he was treated and I know many of the other claimants have similar stories to tell, where their families have been affected by the loss of the land, the sense of grief and anger at the way the land has subsequently been used and the arrogance of the succession of local authorities," Mr Williams said.
Seven families have formed the Te Atatu Peninsula Land Claimants to fight for their land.
Mr Cassin said the dispute dated back to 1958 when the Auckland Harbour Board bought the land under provisions of the Public Works Act for a deep water port scheme.
But after the Auckland Harbour Bridge was built, the port plans were ditched and the land was eventually handed to the council.
"The problem is that the council has failed to offer the land back to the original owners and, indeed, has subdivided and sold off part of the land," Mr Cassin said.
The Williams block has been used as a pony club for some years, although discussions have been held more recently about it becoming a marae, he said.
Other parts of the block are used for recreation, but more than 100 houses have been built at the northern end of the land under dispute.
"Existing residents on the land have nothing to fear," Mr Cassin said. "Our argument is with the council, not them."By Anne Gibson @Anne Gibson Email Anne