[Forestry_Whanganui.JPG] The timing wasn't right for Whanganui Iwi to buy Whanganui District Council forests. Photo / supplied

Whanganui Iwi were unable to be considered as potential buyers of Whanganui District Council forest land but are pleased the new owner plans to give 148ha.

The council has sold 1000ha of land and forest to Summit Forests New Zealand, a subsidiary of the Japanese multinational Sumitomo Corporation.

The nearly $13 million deal was signed last December, but awaited Overseas Investment Office approval, which was given last month. Part of the deal is an announcement Summit Forests will hand over 148ha "for nil consideration once Summit has identified the appropriate iwi to receive the offer".

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The Whanganui Land Settlement Negotiation Trust could be in a position to buy the land when land claims for the lower Whanganui are settled. But it didn't exist when the sale process began.

The council consulted the four iwi in the Whanganui District - Te Rūnanga o Tupoho, Ngā Rauru Kiitahi, Ngā Wairiki o Ngāti Apa and Te Rūnanga o Tamaupoko - in April 2016, before the forests were put on the market.

The council also informed Tupoho about the sale not long before it happened, trust project manager Tracey Waitokia said.

The trust was not in a position at that time to purchase or negotiate, due to reasons the council was told.

It has always been the focus of the Iwi to try to get as much whenua (land) back into hapū or iwi ownership as possible, Waitokia said.

"We have had discussions with them in regards to our stance, and we had also expressed our interest in the whenua, not the forest."

In New Zealand law, land and trees can easily be separated in a sale agreement.

Despite missing out on the land, the trust is excited and encouraged that Summit intends to hand over 148ha.

"We believe this is a great step towards acknowledging the iwi's manawhenua and we encourage these values," Waitokia said.

The Chronicle has contacted Summit Forests New Zealand general manager Henare Walker, to get more information about the gift.