Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Maori history undermines home renovations

Aucklanders must now think twice before digging a swimming pool or doing a large alteration if their property is one of thousands near Maori heritage sites

Maori Bay, Muriwai. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Maori Bay, Muriwai. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Thousands of homeowners will be forced to seek iwi approval before making alterations to their properties in a little-known change to Auckland's proposed unitary plan.

The plan outlining the future shape of the country's biggest city f is yet to come into force, but 3600 sites of cultural and heritage value to Auckland's 19 iwi groups are already affecting the plans of homeowners. About 50 applications for earthworks have so far been considered.

The sites, identified by large purple dots, pock-mark the unitary plan map. Every property inside the dot or within 50m of its boundary is bound by the changes, which came into effect when the plan went to public consultation on September 30.

Affected areas are liberally scattered throughout Auckland and include part of Cliff Rd in St Heliers, where former All Black coach Sir GrahamHenry sold his mansion for more than $4 million last year, as well as large swathes of Devonport and pockets of upmarket North
Shore beaches.

Affected home owners must seek local iwi approval for works such as home alterations of more than 25sqm or the installation of swimming pools, according to Auckland Council unitary plan manager John Duguid. Activities such as gardening are exempt.

If iwi do not agree, homeowners must apply to the council for a resource consent.

Duguid says the requirement was not included in the draft unitary plan released for public feedback in March. Rather, it was a result of that feedback.

"We had a lot of feedback from mana whenua (Auckland iwi groups) that it didn't have sites of value, and that there were many more sites that were identified as such and they were not protected by the previous councils. So we added in 3,600 new sites.

"Under the Resource Management Act, councils are obliged to protect these places, and we were getting the message that we were not taking enough steps to protect them."

Sixty-one sites of Maori cultural or heritage significance were already in the unitary plan in March and remain unchanged.

The 3600 additional sites, which include urupa (cemeteries), middens and former village and pasites, are not newly discovered.

Most, if not all, are already recognised by the Historic Places Act after being identified by archaeologists many years ago, Duguid says.

But they are poorly mapped, making that protection inadequate. And some are simply wrong.

Former All Black Marc Ellis had to pay for an archaeological dig at his Waiheke property to prove that a "dent" in his land was nothing more than that. Local iwi were then consulted to confirm the archaeologist's findings - that the site was not significant - and apply to have the Historic Places Trust register changed.

Ellis says the process was "frustrating", had taken months and had cost him money. "But to build around the site would have cost me a lot more."

The unitary plan is not yet operative but parts came into effect immediately. "No doubt some people will challenge that list," Duguid says.

Michael Coote will be one of those. The West Aucklander stood unsuccessfully for the Henderson-Massey Local Board last month, campaigning on a platform that included abolishing Maori statutory boards.

He considers the addition of the 3,600 sites "economic apartheid" and accuses the council of "crossing the line from consulting (with iwi) to actively promoting them".

Treaty of Waitangi settlements have made some iwi wealthy and, consequently, powerful, Coote says. "It's creating a permanent, two-tier society."

Coote also questions whether the sites are of cultural or heritage value, and says he fears iwi will turn the requirement into a moneymaker.

"It's a recipe for legalised corruption, collecting money off anyone who wants to do anything."

Ngati Whatua Orakei toki taiao (heritage and resource management unit) senior manager Malcolm Paterson says his iwi haven't received a cent for dealing with "several" homeowner applications a week since September 30.

All but one homeowner has been given permission to do the works they want, bypassing the need for resource consent.

That homeowner has been allowed to start the redevelopment of a private North Shore property but monitored by iwi and an archaeologist.

Paterson will not rule out seeking payment in future.

"If I needed to contribute a robust, professional assessment then, as for any professional, value adding service, there should be an expectation that that would be resourced."

A buffer of land around recognised value sites is needed because heritage is difficult to ringfence, Paterson says.

Volcanic sites are an example where previous protections failed because protection only covered council reserves.

"You could jump over a fence on to private property and it wouldn't be included.

"But that doesn't mean the archaeology has finished."

It's a gift to the people

As a child, Maryanne Madden would walk across the green fields of Bastion Pt to the movie theatre in Mission Bay.

Maryanne Madden. Photo / HOS
Maryanne Madden. Photo / HOS

The 44-year-old remembers collecting shellfish off the rocks below and every one of the steps she climbed on her return home.

"You can't do that any more." But little girls and boys - like her 5-year-old son - can still run across Bastion Pt, and that matters, Madden says.

"That's awesome for my son, and his son, and his son's son."

The headland 7km east of Central Auckland was the site of a 506-day occupation in the late 1970s before being returned to Ngati Whatua.

A knob of land on one of its coastal perimeters is also one of thousands included in the unitary plan's sites of value to Maori, because it has been identified as a former pa.

That, and other sites of value such as urupa (cemeteries), should be protected as much as possible, Madden says.

"If someone has been buried there, to us it's so special. You can't build on top of someone. It might not be a living, breathing thing, but it is a constant reminder of where we've come from.

"It just says a lot if you can protect that space. It's like a gift to the people, to everybody."

Homeowner's hurdle

Well into his 80s, Geoff Barlow reckons he's probably past digging a swimming pool in the backyard or adding another storey to his Remuera home.

Geoff Barlow. Photo / HOS
Geoff Barlow. Photo / HOS

The retired high school teacher might want to sell one day though, and he's a bit worried about the large purple dot that cloaks about a quarter of the houses in his street.

The dot means the home he has lived in since 1963 lies in an area of value to Maori, and any medium or major earthworks cannot go ahead without iwi approval.

Barlow has no plans to do any, but a future owner might want to - and thus be put off buying his house when they realise what it may involve.

"I wouldn't be very happy if it's going to affect that," he says.

Barlow also wants an assurance his land, and that of others around the city, is definitely of value to Maori.

"How accurate are these records? I'm trying to be reasonable. I'm not anti-value (sites) but it will be a bit of a shock to a lot of people. It's another hurdle."

- Herald on Sunday

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