Earlier this month, Auckland Council announced it was adding 8.9 hectares of public reserve bordering Ihumātao.
The mayor has said that this is an "important contribution" to resolving the ongoing land dispute. This is a little disingenuous. Rather than an important contribution, it could more accurately be called a step in the right direction.
This land, also known as the Rennie Block after earlier owners, was purchased by the former Manukau City Council for open space purposes. It is not a purchase by Auckland Council to resolve "the ongoing dispute". Under the Unitary Plan, Auckland Council had it rezoned for future urban purposes. This left it with an uncertain future which did not preclude development.
Clearly Auckland Council is now thinking about the landscape and its associated values in this special part of Auckland. Now is the time to build on the council's lead.
Now with the dispute dragging on, the council has obviously considered its position. I think it fair comment to say that it does not want a dispute on its hands similar to what is
happening on the adjoining Wallace Block, hence the move to put the Rennie Block definitely into public open space. However negative analysis will not assist the situation and this firm decision by the council about the Rennie Block should be seen as a positive step.
Manukau City Council wanted the Wallace Block too for public open space. Now is the time to go back to this original vision. As has already been said by the Auckland Volcanic Cones Society and other commentators, these additional lands would be the right buffer for the nationally important stonefields behind them.
Their acquisition and rezoning as public open space would make for one of the most interesting heritage parks in the country. This new park could bookend Ambury Park with its similar decent area of land, especially as the connections between them have already been made. On a practical level the present administration at Ambury Park farm should be able to manage both properties.
If we have just the Rennie Block being turned back into public open space, while a good addition, the total landscape is still well short of the original vision. The Rennie Block sits more to the side of the historic stonefields. It only partially fronts the Ōtuataua volcano and misses Pukeiti Volcano completely. Its elongated rectangular shape actually competes with the circularity of the volcanoes. This addition by itself will look like a sop to the present difficult situation, but if combined with the Wallace Block, then the public is looking at an excellent outcome.
At present the dispute has escalated into a Maori versus Government wrangle. Referring back to the 1860s confiscation has clouded the argument. Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) has always said it wants this special landscape to be for all New Zealanders to enjoy. SOUL does not want development on it, and the Auckland Volcanic Cones Society would agree. If the argument can be brought back to this single landscape issue, then the chances for a good outcome are high.
Clearly, Auckland Council is now thinking about the landscape and its associated values in this special part of Auckland. Now is the time to build on the council's lead. Fletcher NZ has said it wants to sell. With this land being nationally important, it is likely the Government would also contribute to its purchase but obviously it does not want a resolution which opens up only more issues to be dealt with. If we can focus entirely on landscape and push other arguments off the table, then there is a way forward that should satisfy all parties.
Ihumātao is a very special part of Auckland and we could all be winners.
• G L Smith is spokesperson for the Auckland Volcanic Cones Society