While the pace of development has slowed a little in Tauranga, if, as expected, the Port of Tauranga picks up a larger share of the Port of Auckland shipping traffic, then that should ignite further expansion of the city.
We also know that Tauranga and the Mount remain premium relocation destinations – and not just for people contemplating retirement. In recent weeks, I have met a couple of Aussie climate refugees – their decision to come to our part of New Zealand encouraged by the tragic Australian bush fires.
Our attraction as a residential destination is not about to change. But the expected future expansion of the city and associated infrastructure sharpens the focus on what is becoming increasingly obvious. The city has run out of easily developable land – specifically residential land. On all sides, the city is hemmed in by high-value land, for example kiwifruit or avocado production orchards.
Development has also come hard up against land in the ownership of Māori; Māori land trusts in particular. Using highly productive horticultural land for housing is one dilemma. But trying to set up residential developments on land where sale of that land is not even on the table, the Māori trusts land, is an even bigger one.
Māori land trusts are reluctant, if not adamantly opposed, to the sale of any of their land and the reasons for doing so are perfectly understandable. It is the legacy of our history where in the relatively short space of 100 years – roughly pre-1840 to 1939 - Māori went from owning all the land to just 1.4 million hectares or roughly 5.5 per cent of New Zealand's land mass.
How this initially happened is a sorry tale of culture clash and cultural misunderstanding. Granting land occupancy rights to early traders and missionaries is the starting point.
Māori saw this as a way of expanding the scope or influence of their hapu or iwi group, but the traders and missionaries saw those occupancy rights; obtained in exchange for blankets and other implements, as being a grant of absolute ownership.
This cultural misunderstanding was to such an extent that when an attempt was made to sort the competing positions out in early 1840 on the eve of the Treaty of Waitangi, even at that date Pakeha were already claiming ownership of over 27 million hectares – more than the total area of the entire country.
Here in Tauranga, the most obvious loss of land was through the confiscations following the wars of the 1860s. The Native Settlements Act (1863) provided for the seizing of land from Māori tribes who had been in rebellion against the Government.
The stated purpose of the Act was to achieve the "permanent protection and security" of the country's inhabitants and establish law, order and peace by using areas within the confiscated land to establish settlements for colonisation. The initial settlers were military settlers, many of whom enlisted from among gold miners in Otago and from Victoria in Australia on the promise of cheap land following the cessation of the wars.
Confiscated land not used for military settlers was to be surveyed and laid out as towns and rural allotments and then sold, with the money raised to be used to repay the expenses of fighting Māori. This situation attracted a wry comment from the late Dr Ranginui Walker, who observed that it was the ultimate irony for Māori fighting to defend their own land from European encroachment: "They were to pay for the settlement and development of their lands by its expropriation in a war…"
In Tauranga, 290,000 acres were confiscated in a shambolic fashion. Contrary to the Native Settlements Act provisions it didn't matter if you were opposing the British troops i.e. in rebellion or supporting them, or just being neutral. There was no separation and all the Tauranga land was confiscated regardless. The later transactions that followed; sales, purchases, land returns and other transactions were equally shambolic with no regard had for tribal or hapu affiliations. For example land was returned to the wrong people who immediately turned around and sold it. After these transactions, the final confiscated amount of land totalled 49,750.
The irony is that the 1860s confiscations forced Maori to land on the outskirts of the fledgling city of Tauranga and it is now those lands that have become the new focus for acquisition and development.
So what's to be done? Clearly the sooner our councils and their planners start discussions with the trusts to explore possibilities the better. A new formula or model has to be found which considers the desire of the land trusts to retain ownership but also allows for potential development.
Some long-term lease arrangements are one suggestion. The other is that these lands be developed by Maori groups themselves and there are several projects of this nature already under way. What hampers this kind of development however is that these lands on the city edge lack basic infrastructure - water and wastewater services being two examples. Again our combined councils need to get together, possibly with central government, to consider how that infrastructure might be funded and put in place.
The other track to take is to accept the limitations imposed on city expansion by our geography and the shortage of new land for development. Clearly people living here don't want to see a repeat of the Auckland sprawl and the knock-on impact on services, infrastructure and traffic flows. The obvious answer to the restraints on residential demand is intensification, that is going up rather than out.
Tauranga, with a largely progressive forward-looking city council in place, has made this call and plans are already in place to lift the intensity of housing options along the Te Papa peninsula. This can be achieved through more apartment and town house developments and more section subdivisions to create additional housing space. Several apartment building projects are already under way responding to this shift in emphasis; future student apartment accommodation to complement the Waikato University presence in the city is a good example.
But, sadly, I think intensification signals the end of the quarter-acre paradise dream of the previous generation. Welcome to the intensive housing lifestyle which we see everywhere in other western countries overseas. It's a lifestyle that seems to be at odds with what we know is the preferred Kiwi outdoor lifestyle, but I don't think it needs to be that way. I have absolutely no idea how intensive urban living might be made more attractive, but I am confident that if there is a way, we Kiwis will find it.
Note: This column originally stated the land confiscated in Tauranga was 250,000 acres. This has been corrected above. The amount of land confiscated after land transactions (49,750) has also been subsequently added.
Buddy Mikaere is a historian, environmentalist, resource consents consultant and Tauranga Moana iwi representative with a wide variety of interests across the Mount Maunganui and Tauranga community. He serves on various council committees.