By Leigh-Marama McLachlan of RNZ

The Māori king, Kīngi Tūheitia, says mana whenua have finally reached consensus over what to do with Ihumātao - they want it back.

The announcement was made this morning, with Kīngi Tūheitia Potatau Te Wherowhero VII saying he had successfully guided mana whenua of Ihumātao to a unified position.

"Mana whenua agree they want their land returned, so they can make decisions about its future," he said.

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"Kīngitanga has conveyed the views of mana whenua to the government and urged it to negotiate with Fletchers for the return of Ihumātao to its rightful owners."

The land near Auckland Airport has been occupied by members of the Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) group for almost three years to oppose Fletcher Residential from building 480 houses there.

But the occupation ramped up on 23 July after police served occupiers with an eviction notice. Since then thousands from across the country have flocked to the site and hundreds have camped there.

The peaceful protest at Ihumātao near Auckland Airport began in July. Photo / Dean Purcell
The peaceful protest at Ihumātao near Auckland Airport began in July. Photo / Dean Purcell

After growing public outcry, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stepped in and put a halt on development until a decision was reached about how to proceed.

The Kīngitanga initially signalled its support for the Fletcher development, having negotiated with Fletchers to return eight hectares of the 32-hectare site.

But on 3 August, Kīngi Tūheitia visited Ihumātao and invited all mana whenua to meet to find a solution. These hui excluded government officials and Fletcher development.

"Although the land has remained occupied, mana whenua representatives have engaged in good faith discussions under the cloak of Kīngitanga and have reached a unified position on Ihumātao.

"Mana whenua agreed the return of the land is outside of the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process and therefore requires an innovative and modern solution that does not financially disadvantage iwi."

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The Crown confiscated the land from Māori in 1863, and it was sold to Fletchers in 2016. Typically, the government will not negotiate the return of land in Treaty settlement if it has moved into private ownership.

Earlier reports have priced the land at about $40 million.

Kīngi Tūheitia said they acknowledged the prime minister's early intervention in the dispute, and the support for Kīngitanga to facilitate negotiations with mana whenua to find a way forward.

"It is important that the government prevents any further alienation of the people from their land, while discussions are underway."

- RNZ