An agreement that aims to protect the Taumarere River while allowing a controversial marina extension to go ahead at Opua is being hailed a "win win" by the hapu that initially opposed it.

Last year council-owned company Far North Holdings (FNH) unveiled plans to expand the existing 250-berth marina with 170 new berths as well as a 1ha reclamation and new on-shore facilities. FNH said the expansion was needed because all berths in the marina's first stage had been pre-sold so there was nowhere for visiting yachties to stay.

The proposal, however, ran into vocal opposition from Opua residents who feared its effects on water quality, erosion, traffic volumes and access to the waterfront.

The Karetu Marae Committee vowed to fight the expansion in the Environment Court but on February 27 signed a ground-breaking agreement with FNH instead.

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The Memorandum of Understanding establishes a kaitiaki (guardianship) partnership to protect the environment as well as social, cultural and economic well-being. Among other things it recognises Ngati Manu values relating to land, water, waahi tapu sites, flora and fauna.

Chairman Arapeta Hamilton said the MOU, the committee's first agreement of its type with FNH, was a "win-win".

Ngati Manu and its hapu Te Uri Karaka and Te Uri o Raewera had lived on the Taumarere River for centuries and were concerned about pollution of the waterway. They would now play a more active role in improving water quality, protecting native species and implementing educational programmes.

"This awa has fed our whanau for many centuries. It is up to us all to ensure that we pass this resource on to the next generation in a much better state than we received it in," he said.

FNH chairman Ross Blackman said the agreement was the result of months of meetings and dialogue. It would protect the river for future generations while providing economic benefits and job opportunities.

The marae committee's appeal against the marina expansion consents was withdrawn last week. FNH had also appealed some aspects of the consents but that is expected to be resolved by negotiation rather than via the courts.

FNH chief executive Andy Nock said if everything ran smoothly and tenders came in within budget, work could start as early as July or August.

The company would continue to work with businesses, the school, Love Opua and other groups to refine the design and make sure it reflected the area's culture and history.

The Opua Marina Liaison Committee also had serious misgivings about the proposal but lacked the resources to mount an appeal. The group, however, welcomed conditions in the consents around public access and design, which it had criticised as being ad-hoc and second-rate.

Mr Hamilton said the wrongful taking of land at Opua had been a source of grievance for the hapu since the 1830s. In the early 1980s Sir James Henare opposed any marina development without consultation or recognition of tangata whenua. The agreement marked the first time FNH had acknowledged the hapu's assertion of mana whenua and mana moana status, he said.