The spokesman of the Auckland Volcanic Cones Society, Greg Smith (NZ Herald, May 10) offers a level-headed approach to the crisis at Ihumātao near Auckland International Airport. It sums up the mess that we are now in – those seeking to protect the land are preparing to face down corporate bulldozers – but also offers a constructive way forward.
Smith argues the contested land at Ihumātao, known as Special Housing Area 62 (SHA62), is of national importance and it's time for the Government and Auckland Council to make a joint acquisition to break the current impasse.
The Save Our Unique Landscape campaign (SOUL) has been fighting to protect this land for more than four years. The land is part of the adjoining internationally and nationally
significant cultural heritage landscape, confiscated from mana whenua in 1863. The Crown granted the land to a settler family, whose descendants sold it to Fletcher Building Limited in 2016.
Smith's opinion is an example of constantly growing solidarity across the country and
internationally over the imminent destruction of this unique treasure. More than 20,000 New Zealanders signed a SOUL petition presented to Parliament on March 12 and Auckland Council on April 9, seeking urgent intervention to resolve this crisis.
SOUL wants to stop the Fletcher development and protect the land for future generations. It wants respectful, constructive engagement among the interested parties to create a solution everyone can live with.
Members of the Māori Affairs Select Committee, which is considering the petition, visited
the land on April 15 to see for themselves why so many people have rallied to prevent its
destruction. The Mayor of Auckland, Phil Goff, promised that Auckland Council would give
the petition serious consideration.
But the clock is ticking – Fletcher permission to begin works took effect on May 6 – and
pressure is mounting. SOUL will maintain a watchful presence on the land and, if necessary, engage in peaceful, non-violent direct action.
To break this deadlock, we urgently need an approach that demonstrates visionary
governance. Elsewhere, government and councils have demonstrated the kind of leadership needed now for Ihumātao.
There are many precedents for joint acquisitions and multi-partner contributions that protect and conserve our nation's heritage. Recent cases of public investment include support for the restoration of Auckland's St James Theatre in 2016, with $1.5 million from the Government's heritage EQUIP fund plus a $15m suspensory loan from Auckland Council; the restoration of Christchurch Cathedral, which received $10m from Christchurch City Council plus a $10m local grant and $15m suspensory loan from the Government in 2017; and the restoration of the Dunedin Courthouse received $20m from the Government in 2015.
These examples concern our colonial built heritage rather than archaeologically and
historically significant heritage landscape, but they show a willingness to invest in heritage conservation in the right circumstances.
The establishment of the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve in 2001 was the result of the kind of multi-party collaboration (Auckland Regional Council, Department of Conservation, Lotteries Commission and Manukau City Council) that we need now at Ihumātao.
A range of public funding sources exist that could support a public acquisition of SHA62.
The Auckland Council Built Heritage Acquisition Fund enabled the purchase of the Wong
Doo and Airedale St cottages in 2013 for $16m. A grant of $3m from the New Zealand
Lottery Grants Board Significant Projects Fund was made in 2017/18 towards development
of the Titirangi Maunga and Puhi Kai Iti/Cook Landing Site connection in Gisborne.
There are also government precedents in land-banking for Treaty settlements. For example, in 2018, the Government paid $7.5m for Poroti Springs land and water rights in Northland, a culturally significant taonga like the land at Ihumātao.
These arrangements suggest a way to share the financial costs of purchasing the contested land at Ihumātao and demonstrate the wide range of options available to the parties that could collaborate to enable Fletcher to exit ownership of the land, leaving its cultural values and ahi kā intact. Fletcher has publicly indicated that it is open to offers on the land, and other parties may also have an interest.
The Government and Auckland Council need to intervene. Ignoring these precedents and the violent, traumatic history of raupatu at Ihumātao would not reflect well on a government committed to a kinder, more caring approach.
The Government has a significant surplus and low levels of debt. Auckland Council gave $10m to the Eden Park upgrade. It comes down to priorities, and whether or not our city and nation care about the history, heritage and heartache attached to the Ihumātao cultural heritage landscape.
A confrontation on the land, which looks increasingly likely, is in no one's interests.
Dr Frances Hancock is an engagement specialist. Nicola Short is a heritage consultant and university lecturer. Both are SOUL supporters. www.protectihumatao.com