Fletcher executives will face protests from a small Maori community in Mangere when they attend a planning hearing tomorrow for a proposed new housing project on land that was once used for burial caves.

The Fletcher team, led by Fletcher Residential general manager Ken Lotu-Iiga, will present their case to Auckland Council commissioners for up to 480 homes in a 32ha special housing area in Oruarangi Rd containing at least three lava caves that were used to bury people centuries ago.

The company proposes to protect the known caves in an 8.5ha part of the site next to the Otuataua Stonefields Reserve that would be kept as open space.

But the protest group from the nearby Makaurau marae, who will gather outside the former Manukau City Council headquarters where the hearing starts at 9.30am tomorrow, want the whole special housing area protected as open space.


"What we would like is that the plan variation and the qualifying development consent applications are declined, and that we can preserve this unique site for all New Zealanders," said spokeswoman Pania Newton, 26, who has lived near the marae all her life.

Council officers have recommended that the site's zoning should be changed from Future Urban to Mixed Housing Suburban to accommodate the project, and that a plan for an initial 140 homes in the southwestern corner of the site should be approved as a qualifying development under special housing area legislation passed in 2013.

However, even if the four commissioners approve these changes, the project still faces a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal and requires an archaeological authority from Heritage NZ, which told the council in November that "it should not be assumed by the developer that an authority would be granted, especially if large-scale destruction is proposed".

Waitangi Tribunal Chief Judge Wilson Isaac has extended the deadline for submissions on an application for an urgent tribunal hearing on the Treaty claim from January 11 to this Friday, February 5.

Heritage NZ northern general manager Sherry Reynolds told the council in her November letter that the proposed development "has the potential to adversely affect heritage resources".

"In our opinion, the additional pressures brought about by the intensive housing development on the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve as the result of the population increase have the potential to adversely affect its heritage values," she wrote.

"This could be potentially overcome by ensuring improved management measures for the reserve and providing access to alternative recreation facilities at an early stage."

In particular, she said the stone walls built by European farmers along Ihumatao Quarry Rd, which runs up the middle of the development area to the stonefields reserve, "should be retained or reinstated".

"This could require a separate lane to provide access to lots along that road," she wrote.

However, council archaeologist Dr Matthew Campbell said, in a December report provided for tomorrow's hearing, that "the bulk of the stone walls will be destroyed by cut and fill earthworks".

Former Department of Conservation archaeologist Dave Veart has said, in another submission for the hearing, that the whole site is of international significance as one of the first places settled by Maori in the last country on earth to be settled by humans.

"Radiocarbon dates from this part of Auckland are among the earliest in the country. Ihumatao is one of the first places cleared for gardening in New Zealand," he said.

"This means the record of the actions of the first people on the last piece of the planet to be settled is held in this site, something too important to be destroyed."

Mr Lotu-Iiga said Fletcher had commissioned an archaeological report that addressed the queries raised by Heritage NZ.

"Fletcher Living has been consulting with recognised Maori leaders who have the mandate to represent their iwi," he said.

"These leaders are supportive of our plans because of Auckland's need for housing and our initiatives to protect the culturally significant geological feature of the area. We have also commissioned a cultural impact report and consulted with iwi and Heritage NZ in the development of our plans.

"There are comprehensive protection plans in place including:

• Creating a buffer zone to protect the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve on the western boundary of the development (approximately one third of land in the development area will be public space.)

• Protecting lava caves in our development as part of this buffer zone.

• Many historic stonewalls will be protected although some will be rebuilt and some removed.

• Protecting public access to the adjacent reserve.

• Providing space for a cultural and information centre near the entrance of the reserve."