A Maori trust has launched a legal bid for the return of land from Masterton District Council that territorial authorities seized more than a century ago.
Since 2010, Makirikiri Aggregated Trust has been fighting for the return of the 2.6-hectare block of land on Opaki-Kaipororo Rd that is known by council as the Hastwell Gravel Pit. Council planted about 1.6ha of pine trees on the block that two years ago were valued at $12,500.
The reserve was gazetted on May 11, 1889, and has been owned successively by the Wairarapa North County Council, the Mauriceville County Council, the Masterton County Council and the Masterton District Council.
Trust chairman Geoff Perry said the trust is taking the matter to the Maori Land Court to have the reserve declared Maori freehold land.
The trust is also asking council to remove rubble and mature pine trees and plant native trees and install bench seats. The reserve may then be developed as a haven for native birds that would be open to the public, Mr Perry said.
Next year, the trust plans to launch a $500,000 farming project on land neighbouring Pukaha Mt Bruce.
Mr Perry earlier told the Wairarapa Times-Age that trust patience had evaporated regarding the return of the block, especially since the discovery two years ago of a letter an engineer wrote in 1888 suggesting the land had been taken "without compensation to the natives".
MDC district planner Sue Southey earlier said the pit was a reserve and council "cannot simply sell or give this land to anyone".
The council must first get ministerial consent to revoke the reserve status of the land, then the block must be returned to the Department of Conservation and "disposed of by the Crown through the treaty settlement process if that is appropriate".