Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Verifying iwi sites best place to start

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Maori have identified 3661 places of value, but the problem is that too many have not been properly authenticated.

Aucklanders are notoriously slack when it comes to preserving our heritage. The other day, a resident was fined for hacking into the scoria flow of his unique Mt Eden-edge lava forest property; in nearby Grey Lynn and Ponsonby, developers keep carting away century-old villas from their suburban settings.

So it's little wonder that belated attempts to identify and acknowledge, through the new Unitary Plan, the Maori heritage of Tamaki Makaurau, are causing a little, shall we say, disquiet.

My wonderment is that, after 170 years of European urbanisation, the descendants of the original Maori owners have been able to identify 3661 sites of cultural or heritage value left to protect.

As one of those who believe villas should be preserved en masse, by the whole neighbourhood, rather than one here, another there, I can empathise with the Maori go-for-broke attitude.

But given their limited human and financial resources, you have to worry that the end result will be disappointment all round.

Under the Resource Management Act, Aucklanders have long been expected to obtain a cultural impact assessment from local iwi if a proposed development is likely to affect an identified Maori heritage site. But only 61 such sites were identified on various town plans.

This has all changed. In the proposed Auckland Unitary Plan, another 3600 sites are listed, dotting the isthmus, particularly along the expensive coastal strips.

If the proposal is adopted, digging a new garden will be okay. But if you want, for example, to install a swimming pool or excavate for a new building on a property covered by - or within 50m of - one of the 3661 sites, you will have to consult one of 19 local iwi groups.

They will decide whether a cultural impact assessment is needed. This would highlight whether your proposal had an environmental impact, an adverse effect on Mana Whenua values, or was an area of significance or value to Mana Whenua, based on archeological records.

The problem is that the enthusiasts from the 19 iwi, most, one suspects, with no archeological training, will be asked to make assessments about sites of questionable authenticity.

Unitary Plan manager John Duguid told the Herald on Sunday in November that most of the 3600 additional sites, which include cemeteries, middens and former villages and pa sites, had been identified by archaeologists over many years, and recognised under the Historic Places Act. But, said Mr Duguid, they were poorly mapped and some were simply wrong.

To the ordinary Kiwi bloke, trying to get to grips with not just "the tangible" but also the "intangible values of Mana Whenua cultural heritage" is an additional hurdle - one the Unitary Plan requires be confronted.

The small print of the plan also says that identifying and protecting the values of the Mana Whenua cultural heritage involves using, among other things, "the mauri (life force and life-supporting capacity) and mana (integrity) of the place or resource".

Many of the issues the Mana Whenua will be asked to consider are issues which Auckland Council will already be required to assess, such as discharges to air, land and sea, mineral extraction, removal of mangroves, and the like.

Critics have been quick to note the extra compliance costs this doubling up will add to the applicant's bill.

In response, Auckland Council chief planning officer Roger Blakeley says the council is working with iwi "to get the right balance". A recent concession is that instead of individuals having to track down the appropriate iwi to consult, the council will provide a facilitator "to contact iwi on applicants' behalf".

Despite what the rabble-rousers say, the iwi will not have the final say. But their opposition to a scheme will force a resource consent hearing.

But as the veracity of an unknown number of the 3600 newly listed heritage sites is dodgy, the whole procedure, however well-intentioned, seems dangerously flawed.

Neither city planners nor Maori will be doing themselves any favours if the new era begins with a procession of appeals to the Environment Court where archaeologists are produced on behalf of aggrieved citizens to declare they could find no trace of a midden, or fence post hole or whatever.

Better surely that first the 19 iwi groups join forces with Auckland Council, line up some archaeology students and get digging and verifying.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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