Bethells Beach is divided: some residents say they've not been fully consulted about the council's proposal to lease land at Te Henga to build a marae and housing. Others are excited about the plan, reports Hayley Hannan.

The wooden clubroom is near bursting with people. At Bethells Beach Surf Club, windows steam as tempers flare. Residents have flocked to this meeting with Waitakere City Council over a proposed marae for their small community.

In February,

The Aucklander

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reported that residents suspected the council and tribal authority Te Kawerau a Makia were negotiating a private deal for land at Te Henga.

Now they have learned the council has indeed bought a 2.6ha section to lease to Te Kawerau a Maki for a marae and papakaainga (housing).

The section is already zoned for marae purposes but a proposed classification as a local purpose reserve allows for papakaainga. Residents are being asked for submissions on the site's reclassification.

Kent Hyland, neighbour to the chosen site, says there are many factors at play. Some feel the property is unsuitable and feel cheated at being left out of negotiations involving public money.

Mr Hyland says he supports having a marae in the area after Te Kawerau has consulted the local community.

"I think we're feeling extreme annoyance with the council in the way that something [that] will have such a profound effect on our small coastal community is being forced upon us without any consultation."

He says the site's water table is only 2m below ground, making housing unsuitable on the sandy ground.

Some residents are worried that since there seems to have been little or no consultation so far, there won't be any consultation when it comes to deciding exactly what will be built on the land. Many want the submission process extended.

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Neighbour, Derek Moors, is upset the council can choose to put a marae and houses on the site when he was denied consent to build cabins and an ablution block for people staying on his property in caravans.

"I spent $70,000 on traffic reports, engineer reports, geotech reports, anything they requested. "They have already set a precedent with what they can do with the land."

Bethells Beach is covered by the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act, which can make it difficult to get building consent.

Vanessa Cameron-Lewis thinks the land should be given to the tribe.

"If this land is leased to Te Kawerau a Maki, but ownership and thus control is not gifted to them, then this proposal would do nothing but create - and arguably continue - a paternalistic, colonial relationship between council and iwi."

She says if the land is not given to the iwi, then consultation with the Bethells community will have to continue.

"This is obviously problematic, especially as the majority of Te Henga residents are ignorant of the history of Te Henga prior to [original European settler] Pa Bethell."

Graeme Campbell, council director of strategic planning, says there has always been transparency about the proposed marae. A formal proposal was in the 2004/05 annual plan, and the 2003-2013 long-term plan.

However, he says the site cannot be given as councillors chose to retain control over the use of the site to prevent the land being subdivided.

Te Kawerau A Maki executive officer Wayne Dean says the site will be an important base for the iwi and is a chance to move back to ancestral land.

"It's not just a marae. We're regarding it as kainga whakahirahira, a significant village - different to a marae."

He recognises that people are concerned about the impact of any buildings and said the tribal authority was working closely with the council to minimise environmental impacts. "We've committed to the eco-marae as a concept for us to develop. This covers stormwater disposal, building materials and electricity generation."

Submissions closed on Monday. An independent commissioner will accept verbal submissions today before making a decision.

Settled

Te Kawerau a Maki is recognised as the tangata whenua of Te Henga, original owners of land stretching from Waitakere Ranges to Cape Rodney. History places the tribe in the area more than 1000 years ago.

After lodging a claim 30 years ago, the tribe has agreed in principle to a Crown offer of

ancestral lands and $6.5 million in February this year.