One Government ministry is hinting the acquisition of Ngunguru sandspit was through a land swap; another that it paid for it by selling an unwanted asset. Yesterday, Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson and Whangarei MP Phil Heatley made no bones about the fact the deal was sealed through sandspit owners Todd Property Group taking over the Government's long-vacant Napier Hospital site.



At the same time as they told Ngunguru locals the sandspit was safe, in Wellington Health Minister Tony Ryall announced the old Napier Hospital site, which had been on the market since 2006, had finally been sold.



Whatever the niceties or nitty gritty of the negotiations, the news that the spit was now in public hands was greeted with cheers and tears by a crowd of residents, the Ngunguru Sandspit Protection Society, school children and a clutch of local body politicians.



The emotional response came after years of negotiations and protests to prevent Todd Property Group and its forerunner company Landco subdividing a large wad of the ecologically and culturally-valuable spit.

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Ngunguru Sandspit Protection Society chairperson Mary Britton said she was thrilled with the news the spit would now be a reserve.



"But there is still a great deal of work to do to ensure the site is properly managed.



"That will be the responsibility of this community, working with the Department of Conservation."



Chris Jenkins, Northland Conservator, said the community, spearheaded by the sandspit protection society, had been a "role model in conservation advocacy".



"If there was ever a place where the community owned something, this is it," Mr Jenkins said.



Details of the transactions are being kept under wraps, but the three-headed deal sees DOC acquire Ngunguru Spit, Todd Property Group acquire the defunct Napier Hospital site, and part of the transaction fund a new mental health unit in the Hawkes Bay.



"Confidentiality clauses prevent me discussing the details of the deal ... but this is a clear win-win-win situation," Mr Heatley said.



The sandspit issue had been the most long-running and complex challenge of his political career, "but ultimately the most rewarding", he said.

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Ms Wilkinson said four separate assessments undertaken between 1982 and 2004 had all ranked the Ngunguru spit as nationally-significant and the highest priority for protection in Northland.



"Securing [it] is a great win for conservation and I know the local community has been pushing for this result for some time.



"A lot of people have attempted to negotiate this purchase over many decades and I want to thank the Ngunguru Sandspit Protection Society and Todd Property for their work on this agreement."



Todd's corporate and government affairs manager Sifa Taumoepeau was also at Ngunguru for yesterday's landmark announcement.



He said the company had appreciated the community's patience while the parties sought to find a satisfactory solution.



"We've been able to swap land with strong conservation values for an urban site which doesn't have so many fish hooks attached. It was an existing site ideal for development, and it's very exciting," Mr Taumoepeau said.



As Ms Wilkinson and Mr Heatley were sharing the good news in Northland Tony Ryall announced the Government had finally sold the Napier site.



Mr Ryall said that in "a related transaction" Todd Property Group had sold land at Ngunguru Spit to the Department of Conservation and was using the proceeds to purchase the Napier Hospital site.