48 properties landbanked worth $12 million

By Aaron van Delden, aaron.vandelden@wanganuichronicle.co.nz

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Millions of dollars of prime Wanganui real estate remains in limbo, with negotiations on a comprehensive settlement of local Treaty of Waitangi land claims still more than a year away.

The 48 Wanganui properties, valued in excess of $12 million, were put in the Office of Treaty Settlements land bank after being deemed by the Government as surplus to requirements.

The Whanganui area is the only tribal region not yet engaged in the Treaty of Waitangi land-claim process.

The property will remain in the land bank until all historical Treaty claims in the region are settled, given its potential use as redress for those claims.

The list includes residential and industrial land, several houses, a former school, hospital and prison, offices and a gym. Most of the properties are tenanted: 14 are vacant. In Wellington, as a comparison, just six properties are land-banked.

Office of Treaty Settlements acting director Kevin Kelly said the number of Crown properties that had become redundant varied throughout New Zealand, while the majority of historical Treaty grievances in some areas had been resolved, so fewer properties in those regions remained in the land bank.

About 900 properties make up the Office of Treaty Settlements land bank.

Mr Kelly said the Whanganui iwi land settlement was expected to be negotiated in 2014.

Whanganui iwi land claims spokesman Ken Mair said local Maori hoped for a resolution "sooner rather than later".

Though not yet negotiating, the local iwi has started developing a mandate for its comprehensive land settlement, which follows a Waitangi Tribunal district inquiry into more than 70 claims covering an area stretching from the mouth of the Whanganui River to just north of Taumarunui.

The inquiry, Wai 903, also took in land around the Whangaehu River and Waiouru in the east and the catchment area of the Waitotara River in the west.

Mr Kelly said that once a group to represent the iwi had been elected, terms of negotiations could be agreed and formal discussions between the Government and iwi would begin. But a report on the inquiry between August 2007 and March 2010 is still being written.

The report needs to be completed before discussions can take place.

The Waitangi Tribunal said it would detail the report's progress later this month.

Mr Mair said Whanganui iwi members would continue to meet ahead of formal negotiations regarding Wai 903.

Meanwhile, it is anticipated a deed of settlement for the group's Whanganui River claim will be ratified next year.

A preliminary agreement between the Crown and iwi, which made the river a legal entity with rights and interests, was signed at Parliament earlier this year.

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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