Maori residents near a controversial housing project in Mangere have lodged an urgent claim with the Waitangi Tribunal alleging that the Government has breached the Treaty of Waitangi by allowing the development.
The claim may delay or even threaten plans by Fletcher Residential to build 480 homes on the Special Housing Area next to the Otuataua Stonefields near Auckland Airport under the fast-track processes of the Auckland Housing Accord.
Waitangi Tribunal deputy chairman Judge P.J. Savage has directed the Government and other interested parties to file submissions and evidence in response to the application for an urgent hearing by January 11.
Housing Minister Nick Smith said he had not yet had any advice on how the Government would respond, but he rejected the claim that the development was approved without adequate consultation with local iwi.
"The issues were subject to very detailed examination by the Environment Court," he said. The court heard objections from iwi and the Auckland Council to the landowner's application to rezone the land for future urban use several years ago, but approved the rezoning.
"I encourage them to work with Fletcher Residential around the detailed resource consenting," Dr Smith said.
Cameron Hockly, a lawyer for Wellington's Bennion Law but based in Mangere Bridge, conceded that the claim was not straightforward because the housing development had been approved by local government and only "rubberstamped" by Dr Smith.
"I would say we are not sitting on a [guaranteed] winner," he said.
"What we need to show is that the Crown knew [about the implications for iwi]. The Crown participated in the Manukau Harbour inquiry [by the Waitangi Tribunal] in 1985, and the tribunal said to be careful here, we have a long period of occupation and huge amounts of wahi tapu, and you need to tread carefully."
A local group called Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) is campaigning against the development because the site includes several lava caves where their ancestors were buried.
A Fletcher Building spokeswoman said Fletchers did not have any comment to make as the matter was between Soul and the Government.
She said Fletcher Living was working through the consent process and expected its application to be heard early next year.
The claim alleges that:
• The Special Housing Area was created without proper consultation with the tangata whenua.
• There has been no provision for the protection of sacred sites and other taonga.
• The development will undermine the guardianship or kaitiaki role of residents in relation to the land.
Mr Hockly said he was providing his services free so far but hoped to receive legal aid if the tribunal accepted the case for a hearing.
The claim has been registered as Wai 2547. The claim documents are available at: http://www.justice.govt.nz/tribunals/waitangi-tribunal.