Opponents of proposed changes to the way Tauranga City Council buys and sells property have warned commissioners of potential legal action if they go ahead with plans to offer Māori first right of refusal.
Tauranga City Council met yesterday as part of its consideration of a draft Acquisitions and Disposals Policy.
The amended policy proposes to revoke existing policies and in doing so, give tangata whenua first right of refusal on some council properties.
Local iwi representatives at the meeting heralded the move as "welcome" and "a long time coming" but others disputed the proposal, saying it was "nonsense", not fair and legally problematic.
The council put the issue out for public consultation in December, receiving 104 submissions for and against the proposal, which was yet to be decided on.
At the meeting, Barry Scott said he did not believe proper consultation had taken place on the matter.
"It is a badly thought-out idea. I will warn ... that a badly judged exercise of that power, the right of first refusal, could turn out to be invalid and up against a court challenge.
"Making it mandatory is unwise and could possibly come to be illegal."
Scott said embedding a policy was "always dangerous".
"I'm concerned about embedding a policy of first right of refusal. And let's face it, those kinds of things, we've got to be honest, they're divisive issues in this day and age.
"Reserve the right, give the option in the policy but let the circumstances at the time dictate whether it's appropriate.
"We don't want to become a pseudo Treaty of Waitangi body."
Tauranga Citizens Advocacy Tauranga Inc chairman Rob Paterson said there was no community interest in changes to the policy which, he said, looked like it was trying to disguise things in a manner "that can hardly be called transparent".
" ... There are huge disadvantages financially to Tauranga residents and ratepayers arising from this plan. Special treatment and opportunities given to Māori interests being race-based have no justification and are unwarranted."
Paterson said the council should stick with its existing policy "which works reasonably well".
There was no rationale for the right of first refusal and for this reason, the group "strenuously oppose" the proposal, and asked the commissioners to reject it.
Former Western Bay of Plenty councillor Maureen Anderson said the proposal was an "unfair burden on ratepayers".
Puhirake Ihaka, representing Ngati Tapu hapū, said the potential change was "a long time coming for us".
Ihaka said it had to be noted how the land came into council hands in the first place.
"As you all probably know, Tauranga Moana, we had a confiscation process that occurred way back in 1864-65 with the Tauranga City Council rohe, over approximately 50,000 acres, all of it was confiscated.
"Very little of it was given back to some tangata whenua but a large majority was retained by the Crown ... and passed on to territorial authorities that existed in this city. From then on, it came to a point where council still has properties ...
"All of the land tangata whenua have in this city was taken."
Ihaka said it had always been the main aspiration of tangata whenua to get compensation for the land that was lost through the Crown "but to also try to get back our whenua".
Ihaka said the proposed policy change was fair and adhered to the principles of the Treaty: "... there is a lot of land this council owns that we felt, if the opportunity arose, that through our relationship over the years, that we would ... find a way of being able to negotiate as to how that return of the land could happen."
Ngāi Tamarāwaho representative Buddy Mikaere said it was prepared to pay for the land and to reach a point where tangata whenua could be considered, for first right of refusal, was "welcome".
Mikaere said most of Tauranga city's footprint was on Ngāi Tamarāwaho land, so the hapū had deep ties to it.
Hayden Henry, representing Ngai Tukairangi hapū, said returning the land to the people would bring wide-reaching benefits.
"The whenua is our mother, it is our earth. To take that [impacts] on the wellbeing of our people, as we see today. The hauora of our people is dying because of the loss of land."
Ngāti Kahu's Whitiora McLeod said the policy change was "nothing but positive".
"We've had to make compensations too, so Ngāti Kahu supports the policy as it reads today."
Council staff would now collate submissions and what was presented at the meeting before reporting back to Te Rangapu Mana Whenua o Tauranga Moana, after which they would report back to the council on a proposed policy for adoption.