It's four years to the day since the council meeting which helped start a national movement. On this day in 2015, a huge crowd turned up to the Auckland Council chamber to make the case against the Ihumātao housing development.

Councillor John Walker reflected on that day at a recent council meeting. The group of young and old came bearing a mural of hand prints and messages of support. "They came in record numbers, absolutely packed this place out. In the chamber, outside, downstairs. It should have been apparent at that point that this matters to the people out there and it's not going to go away."

Councillor Cathy Casey put forward a motion asking the Government to revoke the Ihumātao special housing area. The council had agreed to it becoming one of the Government's special housing areas, after fighting and losing a legal battle to have it zoned for a reserve.

The Government had already ruled it wouldn't and couldn't undo a decision that had already been made. "I would need to be satisfied that Auckland is no longer experiencing housing supply and affordability issues in order to remove it," housing minister Nick Smith had told a council committee.


Casey blamed a rushed process the year before. Councillors were given just a few hours to consider almost 100 housing developments before voting on them at an urgent closed-door meeting. They may have spent just two minutes considering the three-page proposal that would become one of the most controversial and complex development disputes in New Zealand history.

Pania Newton said many Ihumātao residents had no idea about the Special Housing Area until they saw "pegs being surveyed on the land". Thousands of people had signed a petition against the development by the time it was presented to the council meeting.

Te Kawerau ā Maki kaumātau Te Warena Taua was there to make the case for a development, revealing the deal he struck with Fletcher to include papakāigna for iwi members. He said without the development, many whānau couldn't return to the village and "raise their children where they themselves were raised".

Casey's motion was overwhelmingly rejected. Local councillor Alf Filipaina said voting against it was the hardest decision he had ever made and he would lose friendships as a result. But he, like many councillors, believed no council decision could revoke the Special Housing Area status or ultimately stop the development going ahead, and it was better the development proceed with the iwi concessions intact.

Wayne Walker - who says the Special Housing Areas were a "mistake" and warns the housing development will be "an ongoing scar that will never be healed" - was one of five councillors who backed the motion.

But many councillors elected since that meeting also support the Ihumātao cause. Efeso Collins has commended the demonstrators and accused police of being a "private force for a group of foreign investors". Richard Hills tweeted how his "heart breaks" and it's time for Fletcher to "call it a day". Daniel Newman said the area is hugely significant and it would be "profoundly regrettable" to rip up a single blade of grass.

Several options have been put forward to the council, including doing a land swap with Fletcher or buying the property for a regional park. The upcoming election will determine whether any of those ideas has a chance.