Protesters have started building a concrete-block "whare" in the middle of a disputed site near Auckland Airport where the Fletcher group wants to build up to 480 houses.
Campaign spokesman Brendan Corbett said more than 200 people took part in a "family day" protest on the Mangere site yesterday to watch the protest structure being erected beside Ihumatao Quarry Rd, which runs up the middle of the proposed development.
"It's on the public road through the middle of the block, so it's not on private land," he said.
"It's a symbolic gesture to plant ourselves on the land. It will be around that tohu whenua [land marker] that the occupation will grow. It's 14 tonnes of concrete blocks donated by a local contractor."
The 32ha site in Oruarangi Rd was gazetted in May 2014 as a Special Housing Area, allowing development to be fast-tracked under the Auckland Housing Accord.
But protesters based at the nearby Makaurau Marae say the project would destroy one of the country's earliest sites of continuous Maori occupation. The site contains at least two lava caves used as ancient burial grounds, although Fletcher says the caves were be put into reserves alongside the adjacent Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve.
Fletcher was granted zoning changes to allow the project to proceed in May. But Corbett said Fletcher Residential general manager Ken Lotu-Iiga told the group three weeks ago that the company was not yet ready to start building.
"He told us they still had some engineering issues to sort out before they could move ahead. They still haven't bought the property," he said.
The company has an agreement to buy the land from the Wallace family, which has owned it since 1866, but Corbett said the agreement was subject to conditions including Overseas Investment Office (OIO) consent, required because Fletcher Building is majority overseas-owned.
He said that consent was granted on September 3, 2014, but was itself subject to a condition that Fletcher buy the land within two years.
"That still hasn't happened, so we are trying to confirm from the OIO whether they have gone for an extension of that 24-month period," he said.
Mangere MP Su'a William Sio said last month that more protests on the site were now unavoidable.
Corbett is standing for the Manukau ward in this month's Auckland Council election to raise awareness about the issue. Sitting Labour councillor Alf Filipaina voted for the special housing area and noted that the development was endorsed in a cultural impact report by Makaurau Marae leaders.
"There are two mana whenua groups who know the area better than me. They have been in negotiation with Fletchers for the last three years and they know the area from an archaeological position, so I'm not going to argue with mana whenua - no way!" Filipaina said.
But the other Labour candidate for the ward, Efeso Collins, said he opposed the development.
"We have committed to writing a letter to the Minister of Housing asking him to review the decision that was made in regard to the special housing area," he said.
Auckland Future Manukau ward candidates So'alo Seto Mua and Ika Tameifuna said the council had already decided on the issue.
"There is no process for a single councillor to overturn a decision made by council," they said. "But we are happy to meet with the community to discuss their concerns and ensure that their voice is heard."