The man who heads the Treaty Grounds is urging Bill English to rethink his decision to stay away from Waitangi if he is still Prime Minister in February.

Mr English said he wouldn't come back to Waitangi on Waitangi Day unless changes were made to the way the event was run. Instead, if National was voted back in, he'd likely spend the day in another location, as he did this year when he attended a Ngati Whatua event in Orakei.

Mr English's comments came as a surprise in Waitangi because the event has already been changed, with a widely publicised decision to shift the February 5 politicians' powhiri at Te Tii Marae - the usual pre-Waitangi Day flashpoint - to Te Whare Runanga, the carved meeting house at the Treaty Grounds.

The decision was made at a hui of Ngapuhi kaumatua three months ago and applies to Waitangi Day 2018 and 2019.


Treaty Grounds chief executive Greg McManus said he was surprised Mr English appeared to be unaware the official powhiri had been moved away from the marae to the Treaty Grounds for the next two years.

"If he is re-elected I hope he will reconsider ... I think it's important for the Prime Minister of the day to participate at Waitangi. It's a special day, the anniversary of the relationship between rangatira (chiefs) Maori and the Crown. The Treaty Grounds should be the focus of Waitangi Day because that's where it all started."

When Mr English was informed about the change of venue for the powhiri he adopted a wait-and-see approach to returning to Waitangi.

Organisers would need "a bit more time to demonstrate that they can run a Waitangi Day worthy of the achievements of this country with regard to the Treaty of Waitangi", he said.

Mr McManus was disappointed some of the debate on the issue had perpetuated the confusion between Te Tii Marae and the Treaty Grounds.

"Clearly we still have a lot of work to do," he said.

Traditionally the nation's leaders have been welcomed to Te Tii Marae on February 5, a day dominated by politics and protocol. On February 6 the focal point of commemorations shifts across the Waitangi Bridge to the Treaty Grounds, when about 35,000 people turn out for a family festival.

The change of venue for the official welcome came after two years in which Prime Minister John Key and Bill English stayed away.