Labour suggests a way to save Pt England Reserve from a Treaty settlement

Labour MPs Phil Twyford and Peeni Henare say there is an alternative to taking 11ha of Pt England parkland for housing as part of a Treaty settlement with Ngati Paoa. Photo / Google
Labour MPs Phil Twyford and Peeni Henare say there is an alternative to taking 11ha of Pt England parkland for housing as part of a Treaty settlement with Ngati Paoa. Photo / Google

By Phil Twyford and Peeni Henare

A Government plan to carve up the reserve at Pt England has aroused strong opposition from the local community. A petition against the loss of the land quickly attracted 4000 signatures.

There is an alternative, though, that would not take 11ha of parkland for housing as part of a Treaty settlement with Ngati Paoa. The alternative has the potential to be a classic win-win.

Ngati Paoa would get their housing development, a marae and recognition of their special ties to Pt England. The community wouldn't lose a big slice of waterfront parkland. And future generations in a much-intensified city would still have the benefit of one of the best expanses of public open space in Auckland.

The Government's bill which would revoke the land's reserve status and zone it for housing is currently being considered by a parliamentary committee. The bill drew 104 submissions against, the great majority from local people protesting the loss of public parkland in a community slated to have another 20,000 people as a result of the Tamaki regeneration project.

Mayor Phil Goff on behalf of Auckland Council, and the council's local Maungakiekie-Tamaki Local Board weighed in against the bill, saying the community cannot afford to lose its open space, and that it would set a dangerous precedent.

Labour has come out against the bill in spite of our long-standing support for Treaty settlements, for two reasons. We think is short-sighted to build houses on scarce parkland needed by future generations.

And most significantly, we think there is a better, more constructive solution that the Government seems to have overlooked.

The Government is the majority shareholder in the Tamaki Regeneration Company that owns 2800 homes right next to the reserve. Instead of carving up the local park for housing, it should offer to Ngati Paoa 11ha from the TRC for its housing development.

Given the strength of the council's criticism of the Point England Bill, as the junior shareholder in the TRC it seems likely it would support such a move. Ngati Paoa say the land at Pt England is historically significant for them, and the settlement negotiations have included a plan for 2ha on the reserve for a marae as "cultural redress".

The Government could offer the iwi co-management, and even ownership of the reserve, in recognition of those special ties. This kind of arrangement has been widely accepted in relation to the Tamaki tribes' role in managing the city's volcanic cones, so why not here?

A marae on the reserve would seem a natural extension of that.

The third element relates to Auckland Council's proposal that the proceeds from the sale of the 11ha should be spent on enhancing public parks in the area. Environment Minister Nick Smith, who is in charge of the bill, has said he is willing to consider the idea.

To make all this work, the Government could put some money on the table, perhaps matched by Auckland Council, to finance the upgrading of the park so that Ngati Paoa, the council and the community can work together on enhancing the reserve.

The minister has been at pains to point out part of the park has cows grazing on it, as a justification for turning it over to private housing.

It is true the park has been neglected but that is hardly an argument for denying generations of Aucklanders the enjoyment and amenity of that particular piece of public open space.

An upgrade plan could see the cows replaced by an ecological reserve with pest eradication to preserve habitat for the endangered dotterels, the clean-up of the polluted Omaru Creek, and investment in more playing fields, playgrounds, and walking and cycling trails.

This alternative approach relies on Tamaki regeneration land being offered for Ngati Paoa's housing project instead of a public park. Government officials or treaty negotiators won't have the power to make that call themselves.

But if the minister in charge here, Nick Smith, is so casually willing to use his executive power to take public park land away from the community, he surely has the ability to instead use housing land which the Crown effectively owns as the majority shareholder so everyone can win out in the end.

It is simply a matter of political will.

- Phil Twyford is Labour's housing and Auckland Issues spokesperson. Peeni Henare is the MP for Tamaki Makaurau.

- NZ Herald

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