Environment Minister Amy Adams is standing on the sidelines as politicians argue over a new rule requiring Auckland property owners to seek iwi approval to work on sites of cultural and heritage value to Maori.
A spokesman for Ms Adams said the "cultural impact assessment" clause in the Auckland Unitary Plan was a matter for the council and people of Auckland.
Labour's Maori affairs spokesman, Shane Jones, and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters have criticised the rule, which has the strong backing of the Maori Party.
Ms Adams' spokesman said the Government-appointed panel of independent commissioners was the proper vehicle to provide a robust assessment of the draft Unitary Plan, including the cultural impact assessment clause.
The clause requires applicants carrying out work on 61 sites of significance and 3600 sites of value to mana whenua to obtain an assessment from one or more of 19 iwi groups. Iwi assessments are also needed for a range of activities which may have adverse effects on mana whenua values, including air discharges, boring for water and removing mangroves and native trees.
Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia supported the assessment clause, saying "it's about tangata whenua having a right to participate in decision making over our natural resources".
"For too long local councils have denied, avoided and side-stepped their obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi ... we commend Auckland Council for their courage in taking this step on behalf of the nation."
Her co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell said the party was shocked and disappointed with some of the reactions to the proposal.
In his state of the nation address on February 21, Mr Peters said the assess-ments were another giant step towards racial separation and dominance by a few in Auckland for their own monetary gain.
"These iwi will dictate to the Auckland Council. They can invent all manner of things to lay claim to a significant place."
He said the council had rolled over to heavy-handed iwi who were about to grasp ultimate power over the property rights of Aucklanders.
Last week, Mr Jones said the new rule was dangerous, an extra compliance cost and could leave the community with a jaundiced view of Maori heritage.
Council documents show the new rule was passed on the final day of five days of wrapping up the planning rulebook for public notification six months ago. The rule was briefly mentioned in the committee agenda at the time. Committee members, including Maori Statutory Board members David Taipari and Glen Tupuhi, were asked to endorse the interim directions they were given at confidential workshops in June, July and August.
The rule came about following feedback on the initial draft of the Unitary Plan in March last year which said there was not enough protection for cultural heritage.
Until recently, applicants have had to consult iwi for carrying out work on a small number of 61 sites of significance to mana whenua, but the rule for the 3600 sites of value to mana whenua is new.
Council chief planning officer Dr Roger Blakeley said the council would contact iwi on behalf of applicants whose resource consents may need a cultural impact assessment.
The council, Maori Statutory Board and iwi are working on making the process as easy as possible for applicants.
Cultural impact assessments
What are they?
• A new rule in Auckland Council's draft Unitary Plan.
• Required on 61 sites of significance and 3600 sites of value to mana whenua.
• Required from one or more of 19 iwi groups.
• Council will provide a facilitator to contact iwi on applicants' behalf.
• Iwi may advise that an assessment is not required.
• An assessment will outline the potential impact from work on values to Maori, and offer solutions to address the impacts.
• Costs range from $300 to $1500. Higher costs may apply for more complex proposals.
• Council, Independent Maori Statutory Board and iwi are working to make the process as easy as possible.
Assessment also required where work may have adverse effects on mana whenua values, including:
• Discharges to water or the coastal marine area.
• Discharges to air.
• Discharges to land.
• Diversion, taking or using of surface water, ground water, coastal water or geothermal resources.
• Damming of water and associated structures.
• Drilling a water bore.
• Structures affecting riverbeds and the coastal marine area.
• Disturbance to riverbeds and the coastal marine area.
• Mineral extraction.
• Removal of mangroves.
• Construction of significant infrastructure.
• Establishment of landfills, expansion or closure of landfills, clean fills, recycling plants, waste treatment or hazardous waste infrastructure, bio-waste infrastructure, deposition of bio-solids.
• Removal of outstanding specimens of native vegetation.
• Applications that require integration of matauranga and tikanga.
• Land disturbance and subdivision within archeological sites of Maori origin outlined on the council's cultural heritage inventory.