A storm has erupted after residents of Matakana Island in Tauranga harbour fired media broadsides at plans to build more than 100 houses in forested areas of the island.

John Campbell reported on Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint last night that some residents are threatening to take the law into their own hands, and burn down any houses that end up being built.

And whanau of islanders are taking to social media to support the stance.

The island's about 250 mostly Maori residents have been fighting plans for large-scale residential development on the remote western Bay of Plenty island for years. The 20km-long island has 2023ha of farmland on the inner harbour, where most residents live, and 4,047ha of forest land on the Pacific Ocean side.


The islanders are not without their critics. Auckland tech blogger Stu Fox blasted their protest stance.

The controversy follows the Environment Court's ruling last year to allow 102 houses to be built on forested areas of the island in clusters.

Andrew McRae reported from the island for Checkpoint.

Residents told him the development would intrude on their way of life, push up rates on the island, put pressure on existing infrastructure, and cause ecological damage.

They said it would change the make-up of the island community forever.

Island resident Jason Murray said islanders would oppose the development by any means it takes.

"That's what we have been talking about on the island," he said. "And everyone said it, you know, if you guys build it then we're gonna burn it down because it's just the passion we hold for this island and protecting all the values that make us who we are ... that make us the hapu who live over here, so yeah, we'll defend that, and if they're gonna build it, we're gonna burn it."

He said it was not just about not wanting to share the island. He said the land earmarked for development was stolen "back in the day" and the people of the island have been fighting to get it back ever since. The land had huge cultural significance, containing ancestral bones and burial sites.

Islander Howard Palmer told the show: "People here are talking about direct action, and I suppose that could take a whole lot of different forms. There will not be a physical thing against any people that are involved, but certainly, if there is any action to be taken, it will be against the property itself."

Palmer said the planned development would change the make-up of the community forever.

"I'm against putting a whole new community next to ours, where their cultural values and their practices are different from ours, and that is what will happen."

Kiwifruit is harvested on on Matakana island, which relies on income from dairying and orcharding. Photo / File
Kiwifruit is harvested on on Matakana island, which relies on income from dairying and orcharding. Photo / File

Islander Nessie Kuka told Checkpoint any people planning to buy into any development or real estate agents should take note of the warning.

The Enviroment Court ruling allows for one house per 40ha, over a 4000ha forestry block, amounting to 102 homes.

Western Bay of Plenty mayor Ross Paterson said this was in line with the district plan rules on the mainland. A democratic and legal process was followed, he said, and he hoped those opposed to the development won't take the law into their own hands.

Paterson said that had happened in other parts of the country, and he would be disappointed if that happened on the island. He said he had thought officials had developed an understanding with the five sub-hapu on the island, and he did not think the threat would materialise in the long run.

Patterson said while the development was now approved, the next move on the project was up to the developers. He said it was just waiting to see if the two large landowners are ready "to go in that direction", or whether they just wanted to keep using the land for commercial forestry.

Maori Television reports that developers TKC Holdings had already started building a road to one property. The TV station said the downturn in forestry had driven the firm and the other developer, Carrus Corporation, to sell their forestry holdings on the island.

The TV station said this had frustrated the Matakana Island Trust, which owns 23 per cent of the shares in TKC Holdings.

Thompson Reuters posted the outcome of the Environmental Court tussle over the island on Twitter just over a year ago.