A proposal to return part of Matakana Island to Tauranga Māori has resulted in a record number of submissions - with the vast majority in support.
In July, the Western Bay of Plenty District Council voted to give Panepane Point, also known as Purakau, to the five Ngāi te Rangi hapū connected to the island pending public consultation which closed on August 31.
On Thursday, the council revealed a total of 7381 pieces of feedback were received. Of the submissions, 7121 were for the proposal and 260 opposed. The response is a record for the council.
Island kaumātua Hauata Palmer said the amount of support was overwhelming, surprising and humbling.
"I didn't think the majority view was that far apart. That's got to be a good thing for us," Palmer said.
"Just to put it in context, our population (on the island) is between 200 and 300. To get a 7000 majority in favour, it must have involved the work of a lot of people."
Panepane Point, the southeastern tip of the island, borders the Tauranga Harbour channel and has been owned by the Western Bay of Plenty District Council since 1989. Its pristine beach is one of the district's last untouched pieces of land.
Previously, ownership was in the hands of the subsequently disestablished Tauranga Harbour Board after being acquired under the Public Works Act in 1923.
Submissions included feedback from tangata whenua, those who previously publically opposed the move, national organisations such as Forest and Bird, and people from out of town who visit the Bay of Plenty on holiday.
Of the submissions, 544 came from overseas. A council spokeswoman said many of these were from people who whakapapa (descend from) to the island.
"I'm a little bit surprised. I didn't think we would get that many," Palmer said.
"The locals put in a lot of hard work. I really appreciate that and that fact it's had a lot of publicity as well.
"I don't know whether the opposition had anticipated that it would be so overwhelming. It's humbling."
Keith Hay, secretary for the Katikati Waihi Beach Residents' and Ratepayers' Association, said he was not surprised.
In his opinion, it had "been pretty well-orchestrated for them to get that many submissions for, but our concern is that some of those submissions came from all around the world. We don't think the submissions of people that aren't ratepayers should be taken into account."
Hay said he felt submissions should have only been allowed to come from Western Bay ratepayers, as it was a matter that could impact them.
Hay was critical of the consultation process and said he believed the proposal would go ahead "no matter what the ratios were for or against".
Council group manager of policy, planning and regulatory services Rachael Davie said the council had "never before had a response to a submission process like we have to this one".
Davie said such submissions were important because it gave elected members a sense of public sentiment around what they propose to do and enabled a final decision to be made with confidence.
The council will make its final decision at an extraordinary meeting, at Trustpower Baypark, on October 29. Due to the significance of the deliberation, and potential Covid-19 risk, the meeting will be livestreamed - a tool the council does not use for any other meetings.
If accepted, the council will return ownership of the 165 hectares of Panepane Purakau to a trust representing the five hapū of Ngai Tuwhiwhia, Ngati Tauaiti, Te Ngare, Te Whānau a Tauwhao and Ngai Tamawhariua.
Public access to the foreshore would be protected in perpetuity through a 7-hectare public reserve and through a 20m esplanade strip around the coast. This would secure the public's access for fishing off the wharf, walking along the beach and using the recreational areas close to Panepane Purakau, such as water-skiing lanes.
The consultation included online submissions and five public information meetings attended by a total of 332 people – at Matakana Island, Ōmokoroa, Katikati, Te Puke and Tauranga.
What some had to say
Simon Taylor - This is such an important act of respect, honour and support of Maori, local iwi, local hapu here in the Bay of Plenty. It seems ridiculous that we are considering options or that we have any right in making this decision. The Island has enormous unique cultural and historical significance, and it's time the land and its mana were returned to the people of Matakana Island. Over many years the local Maori have been generous in leasing and giving land to Tauranga city, it's time we return land that is theirs. It's time they have their land returned and no price should be paid. Tauranga City should do this with respect and dignity to the local iwi.
Awhina Ratima - I agree. As a person who whakapapas to Matakana & has tipuna buried on this island I understand and urge the importance of the return of our sacred land.
Tracey Tawhiao - This land is part of an island that has been slowly taken away from the island tangata whenua. My grandparents worked their whole lives on this island born and bred and they barely have any land. Maori have suffered under colonisation and that is undeniable. If this land is available there is no question it must be returned to the tangata whenua.
Christopher Shepherd – My understanding is that the land is still being used for the reason it was purchased for under the Public Works Act 1923 and that under this act it can only be sold to the original owners or their descendants for a fair market value.
Quentin Smith - ... The land should be kept in public ownership. with full rights retained over the entire holding. It is a very shortsighted move by the council members to dispose of any coastal land owned by the community or government entities. Current and future generations of WBOP residents will lose forever, should the present elected council members choose to dispose of the subject property. In simple terms, the community will lose diminishing asset - coastal land and access in the Western Bay...