An urgent Waitangi Tribunal hearing will be held over what a judge has called possible "significant and irreversible prejudice" against some beneficiaries of claims in Napier.

The hearing starts today, sparked by three of seven hapu linked to the Deed of Settlement signed in late 2016 by the Crown and Mana Ahuriri.

Mana Ahuriri last year announced plans for a shopping centre development on former Napier railways marshalling land, which forms part of the settlement package, along with other property development hopes.

The former Railways land was used as a car park for several years. Photo / File
The former Railways land was used as a car park for several years. Photo / File

Spokesperson Barry Wilson confirmed there have been planning delays but they are not related to the Tribunal hearing procedure.

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The post-settlement governance entity (PSGE) the Crown accepted in 2010 is mandated to manage the proceeds of multiple claims linked to the Ahuriri Purchase agreement signed by Crown agent Donald McLean and chiefs in 1851.

Among the claims was WAI 55 Napier Inner Harbour (Te Whanganui-a-Orotu), for which hearings started in 1993 and were among the first held by the Tribunal.

While that claim was accepted by the Tribunal in a 1995 report and a 1998 remedies decision, WAI 55 became part of the wider Ahuriri package as Government moved towards settlement with larger natural groupings, including Waiohiki claim WAI 168 and the pan-hapu WAI 400, which are also linked to Ngati Parau, Ngati Tu and Ngai Te Ruruku, the hapu in new grievance WAI 2573.

Signage on the former railway land indicated development was about to get underway in August, 2018. Photo / Duncan Brown.
Signage on the former railway land indicated development was about to get underway in August, 2018. Photo / Duncan Brown.

The three hapu argue the Crown breached treaty principles and did not protect their rights by not ensuring Mana Ahuriri established and maintained a proper mandate.

They question the mandating of Mana Ahuriri Inc and whether the constitution has been adhered to by the PSGE in terms of elections, board representation and failure to hold annual meetings with audited financial statements in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

In a decision in March 2017, Tribunal deputy chairperson Judge Pat Savage granted urgency on the issue: "Is the Crown in breach of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and thereby causing or likely to cause prejudice to a group of Maori of whom the claimants are members by proceeding to settle in terms on the Deed because (Mana Ahuriri) have not established or maintained a proper mandate?"

Judge Savage said in that decision Mana Ahuriri's silence around loss of mandate (with the three hapu withdrawing support) "sends a powerful signal and I am left of the view that the loss of mandate as alleged is a very real possibility".

"Having reached that point," he said, "I accept that it is almost inevitable that if the Crown settles with a body that does not hold mandate then significant and irreversible prejudice will be caused."

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The hearing will be before a panel headed by Tribunal chairman Wilson Isaac.