Cherie Howie

Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Locals say Treaty land deal 'will ignite new grievance'

Devonport-Takapuna local board chairman Chris Darby. Photo / Janna Dixon
Devonport-Takapuna local board chairman Chris Darby. Photo / Janna Dixon

A $30-million plus block of prime Auckland waterfront land will lose its marine park designation when it is sold cheaply to Maori as part of a big Treaty deal.

The 3.2ha Takapuna Head site, used by the New Zealand Navy as an officer training school, is being sold back to Ngati Whatua for $13.8m - but the iwi has been given freedom to do what it likes with the land.

At the same time, the Government is close to finalising a settlement with Ngati Ranginui in the Bay of Plenty on the land under two primary schools and Tauranga's new police station.

The navy, the police and the Ministry of Education would pay rent to Ngati Whatua and Ngati Ranginui, as long as they continued running public institutions on the sites.

When the Auckland settlement passes into law, the Narrow Neck block will be removed from the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act. The land, on a shared title with a 1.6ha recreation area, is valued at $34.7m, and the improvements nearly $7m.

But local elected officials say they were never properly consulted: Auckland mayor Len Brown has written to Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson asking for a meeting. He said the settlement would "potentially alienate future public access to the property".

"What is more concerning is that this change is being introduced without any formal consultation with the local board and/or community and the Auckland Council," he added.

Devonport-Takapuna local board chairman Chris Darby said they were not told of a "secret" meeting between a government conservation official and the Hauraki Gulf Forum, seven months before the block of land was included in the Treaty settlement.

"It's an issue that has not seen the light of day with Auckland Council," Darby said.

But Finlayson said the land was already developed, and that was a key factor in the decision.

"It is not a natural vista, so it's not necessarily suitable for a public reserve," his spokesman said. "We consulted the Hauraki Gulf Forum and they did not object to it being included in the Treaty settlement."

The settlement bill passed its first reading in Parliament last week, but Ngati Whatua Orakei Maori Trust Board chairman Grant Hawke said the iwi had discussed use of the land, including for residential development, but understood that could not take place until the Defence Force agreed to end the lease.

Under the deed of the settlement, Ngati Whatua Orakei will buy the site and lease it back to the Defence Force for 15 years, which can be extended to 150 years.

There are no restrictions on use if the Defence Force decides it does not want to continue the lease in 10 years' time.

Darby said the land had been the subject of a community-led fight for its protection in the 1990s, amid concerns the Government would "flog it off to rich people".

Public pressure led to the creation of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act in 2000, after the High Court found the site and the neighbouring sports ground had conservation and reserve values and should go back to the people of Auckland as a historic reserve, when the Defence Force vacates.

"In trying to solve one grievance they're re-igniting another," Darby said. "There's a great sense of community ownership over this land."

- Herald on Sunday

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