The return of the Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park land to Ngati Whakaue could take a leap forward today.

At the Rotorua Lakes Council strategy, policy and finance committee meeting, councillors will vote to either retain the status quo (Option 1) - which means reneging on past assertions the land would be returned to Ngati Whakaue by way of the Pukeroa Oruawhata Trust (POT) - or to return the land to Ngati Whakaue (Option 2).

A report by the council's recreation and environment manager, Rob Pitkethley, and legal property manager Tyron Tomlinson says Ngati Whakaue has long-argued the land -
on Old Taupo Rd next to Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology - should be returned because, over time, its use has been inconsistent with what would be expected to be found on a recreational reserve.

"It has been council's intention to begin the process of revocation of the reserve status for some time and it has indicated to the Crown, the intention is to return the land in accordance with Ngati Whakaue's Gifted Lands Protocol," the report says.

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Pukeroa Oruawhata trustee Tina Ngatai said Pukeroa Oruawhata Trust, the council and Toi Ohomai have been working together on the return of the land for a number of years.

"The underlying land is part of what was formerly part of the Arikikapakapa Gifted Reserve and has been used for the current commercial application for a number of years.

"When Toi Ohomai acquired the lease of the holiday park back in 2011/2012, we advised them of our intent to seek the return of the underlying land and received from them a letter of support."

She said despite the fact that all parties were in agreement, the process was somewhat complex.

"We look forward to seeing the matter finally resolved as this will allow us to work with Toi Ohomai on providing an extended lease term that will provide it with the certainty of tenure required to continue its development plans for the holiday park."

Toi Ohomai's executive director of strategic partnerships and Maori success, Ana Morrison, acknowledged the special contribution Ngati Whakaue made to Rotorua.

"Toi Ohomai supports and respects the rights and interests of manawhenua, and the transfer of the holiday park land back to Ngati Whakaue is appropriate and supported," Ms Morrison said.

"As an organisation, Toi Ohomai is committed to partnering with iwi, hapu, and the community, so a change to this effect is consistent with our strategic objectives.

"The institute has a good relationship with both the council and Pukeroa Oruawhata Trust, and the lease that has been negotiated with us strongly supports our ability to deliver tertiary education to the region."

Councillor Tania Tapsell said because the land wasn't being used for what was originally intended, gifting it back was undoubtedly the right thing to do.

"We [councillors] have been discussing this for some time now and I believe everybody is on the same page," Miss Tapsell said. "It shows the progress that can be made when we work alongside iwi and community organisations."

If Option 2 is successful, any agreement between the council, the Pukeroa Oruawhata Trust, Toi Ohomai and the Crown cannot supercede the legal process to be followed under the Reserves Act so there would always be a degree of uncertainty about the outcome.

"However, given there are established processes under the Gifted Land Protocol and the Treaty settlement with Ngati Whakaue, there should be a reasonably high degree of confidence the right outcome will be achieved."

Background

- The land was originally gifted to the Crown by the people of Ngati Whakaue for public recreation purposes and was later vested in the council to administer.

- Parts of the land are leased by Toi Ohomai, which has a 33-year lease that began in 2005, with a right of renewal for 33 years.

- Toi Ohomai pays an annual lease of $106,695 to the council.

- By mutual agreement, Toi Ohomai will retain the lease if the land is given back to Ngati Whakaue by way of the Pukeroa Oruawhata Trust.

- The underlying ownership of the land lies with the Crown and it will revert back to the Crown if the council revokes the reserve status.