A deal on the disputed land at Ihumātao could be just "hours away", says a leader of the group leading the occupation.

But that notion is disputed by Fletcher Building, the company behind the contested 480-house development, which says discussions are "progressing".

The South Auckland site, believed to be one of the earliest settlements in the country, has been the focus of a high-profile protest movement against a housing development over the past several years, erupting last July when occupiers were served an eviction notice.

Amid escalating protests, on July 26 Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stepped in to call a halt to the development while all parties negotiated a resolution.

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Soon the Māori King became involved, bringing the mana whenua groups divided over the development under the korowai of the Kīngitanga to find common ground.

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In September, Kīngi Tūheitia announced mana whenua had reached a consensus: they wanted the land, originally confiscated by the Crown in 1863, returned and wanted the Government to negotiate with Fletcher Building.

On Tuesday, Pania Newton, co-founder of Save Our Unique Landscape (Soul), told the Herald a deal is "hours" away.

Fletcher staff were seen packing down fences and removing equipment at the site.

"A deal is coming. We are just working through the details, and have a meeting with whānau tonight to confirm they are happy with the arrangement.

"We are hoping a resolution is just hours, if not a day, away."

Pania Newton has been involved in the movement to protect Ihumtāo from development since 2015. Photo / File
Pania Newton has been involved in the movement to protect Ihumtāo from development since 2015. Photo / File

Newton said she could not release any further details until after that meeting, but that they were "relieved".

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"Fletcher has been in, starting to remove the last of their gear. We are really relieved. Conversations have been progressing really well."

But a Fletcher Building spokeswoman said discussions about the site's future were still "progressing".

"Fletcher Building is making minor changes to its traffic management plan at Ihumātao in response to reduced activity at the site.

"This includes removing some fencing and opening the road to the Maunga. Fletcher Building's residential development at Ihumātao continues to be on hold at the request of the Prime Minister."

NZME has approached Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's office for comment.

A spokeswoman for Finance Minister Grant Robertson, who had met with Fletcher last year, said there was no announcement yet.

"Talks are progressing towards a resolution for the land at Ihumātao, but there is no announcement to make at this time."

Speaking to media at Ihumātao Newton said seeing Fletcher packing down the last of their equipment was an indication a deal was "just around the corner".

"We know that Kīngi Tūheitia wants this resolved before Rātana Pā, and last year Fletchers and the Government advised us there would be a resolution before the incoming year - that didn't happen.

"So we are relieved to see Fletchers is packing down their gear, and that the details of the agreement are being worked through.

"We can expect to have those all signed off in the coming days, if not hours.

Newton said they were confident the deal would involve the land coming out of Fletcher's hands.

"We are working towards ensuring this land is returned to mana whenua to hold in trust for all New Zealanders to enjoy, and of course for the benefit of those who whakapapa to this whenua.

"I am really relieved and happy. This great sense of pride overcame me this morning when I saw those trucks come in and start to collect those ugly orange blocks and their fences.

"I am grateful for everyone's support over the last couple of months, especially years, and am relieved the conversations with the Crown, the council and Kīngitanga are progressing really well."

The area of farmland on the Māngere peninsula known as Ihumātao is believed to be one of the first places Māori settled in Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland).

The contested block was confiscated from Māori in 1863, acquired by the Crown and sold to the Wallace family.

The site was designated a Special Housing Area in 2014, paving the way for Fletcher Residential's purchase in 2016.

That December Fletcher gained consent to build 480 houses on the 32ha site and protesters began occupying it soon after, demanding it be made a public space and its heritage values preserved.

Those involved with the group Save Our Unique Landscape and various mana whenua - including nearby Makaurau Marae - have claimed the development would destroy the unique historical, cultural, spiritual, social and environmental values of the area, which is one of the country's first settlements.