Whangārei District Council and the Department of Conservation will work with a group occupying ancestral land at Pātaua South to find a solution to their concerns.
WDC and DoC met with a working group representing mana whenua from Pātaua South last Thursday, hoping to learn more about their ongoing occupation of ancestral land currently owned by DoC.
"Thank you for making the time for us to get a better understanding of the issues you want to raise with us. We are here with our ears open," Whangārei District mayor Sheryl Mai told the group.
The group enters day 18 of their occupation today. The site where the group have set-up is reclaimed land that is in the care of DoC. They were spurred to set up the occupation following a series of events relating to multiple blocks of land in Pātaua South, including DoC wanting to legally form a road into a carpark on the land.
According to the group, the land was illegally taken by the Department of Lands and Survey because of rating arrears in the 1970s. The arrears are said to have accrued when residents were forced to leave their land after it was leased by the Māori Trustee, a government department, to the Fraser family. The Whangārei District Council then gave the Frasers permission to put in stopbanks that cut off the Taiharuru estuary from the Pātaua River.
"This accretion joined the island to the mainland, thereby increasing rates by 90 per cent," says Ngātiwai kaumātua rōpū chairman Hori Parata.
Parata informed the council and DoC representatives that an appeal over the decision to allow the building of stopbanks on the site is pending. Legal proceedings involving the block of land would effectively tie up the sale of the 57ha block, which is currently being tendered via Bayleys realtors.
An offer was made by the working group to buy the land for $1 more than the highest bidder but was rejected. This spurred the working group to call for changes to legislation, allowing first right of refusal to go to Māori who can whakapapa to land.
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Parata claimed the WDC failed to adequately consult neighbouring landowners and did not consider a cultural impact assessment he lodged when the land was being vested to the WDC by DoC. He said the litigation process due to the appeal would be a costly one for both parties and the group would rather resolve the situation out of court.
"If you want to lodge an appeal, that's fine... It will probably be the easiest way," Furlong told the group.
Interestingly, recent case law was established around "proper consultation", in a case involving one of those leading the occupation, Kelly Klink. In 2019, Klink made an appeal and application for judicial review to the High Court relating to the decision by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to grant a marine dumping consent to Coastal Resources Ltd, permitting the dumping of significantly increased volumes of dredged material into the exclusive economic zone east of Aotea Great Barrier Island.
The appeal and application for judicial review succeeded and the EPA's decision was quashed. The matter was to be referred back to the EPA for reconsideration, for meaningful engagement with local iwi authorities which might be affected by the application, especially those on the Great Barrier.
There are also a number of issues involving other roads in and around the land, including the one and only road used to access Pātaua South. The working group claims part of the main road into Pātaua is built on Māori land and was vested by the Māori Land Court (MLC) accordingly. They claim negotiations surrounding the road were still ongoing, however Furlong stated he believed a decision had already been made by the MLC regarding the vesting of the road.
DoC and the WDC both made verbal commitments to meet with the working group again in roughly two weeks' time, to provide updates once they had gone away and conducted further research on the history of the land.