An announcement on Ihumātao is being promised before Waitangi Day with the final approval left to Auckland Council next month.

The Māori King visited Ihumātao this morning as speculation of a deal reached on the land dispute grows.

Kīngi Tūheitia, surrounded by the haukāinga (local people) of Ihumātao, gathered at the South Auckland site to lower the king's flag after six months of ongoing discussions between mana whenua, Fletcher Building, the Government and Auckland Council regarding the disputed 480-home development.

On Tuesday Fletcher could be seen packing down its fences and equipment at the site, sparking speculation a deal was imminent.

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Pania Newton, co-founder of Save Our Unique Landscape (Soul), told the Herald a deal was close.

"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."

Qiane Matata-Sipu and Pania Newton of Soul, walk with Kīngi Tūheitia after his visit to Ihumātao. Photo / Khalia Strong
Qiane Matata-Sipu and Pania Newton of Soul, walk with Kīngi Tūheitia after his visit to Ihumātao. Photo / Khalia Strong

But Kīngitanga spokeswoman Rukumoana Schaafhausen said while the announcement was not yet ready, it would come before Waitangi Day, on February 6.

"The views of mana whenua are key to resolving this issue - ministers, MPs have said it must be by Māori, for Māori solution, and I believe we will reach this before Waitangi Day," she told media gathered at Ihumātao.

"The lowering of the flag is simply a representation of the King's confidence in where negotiations are at."

The Kīngitanga has been leading talks on behalf of mana whenua - including Soul, Te Kawerau a Maki and Makaurau Marae - with the Government and Auckland Council to find a long-term resolution since August.

"It has been very intense, and there has been a lot of frustration on behalf of the King at delays that have occurred. Our objective is to represent the views of whenua, to have the land returned. It has taken longer than necessary, but we believe we are on the pathway to a positive resolution."

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The deal would not involve funding from Waikato-Tainui, she said.

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Finance Minister Grant Robertson said they were continuing work with all parties to reach a resolution.

"We are mindful of Fletcher's position as the legal owner of the land, and a satisfactory settlement with them is an important part of a resolution."

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said discussions had been "positive and have progressed well".

"There is confidence that a resolution will be reached soon on the ownership and governance of the land.

"Once a draft agreement is reached by all parties, this will then be subject to final approval by all councillors at the governing body next month."

Haki Wilson, Pania Newton, Qiane Matata-Sipu and Ngati Tahinga Wilson speaking at Ihumātao. Photo / Khalia Strong
Haki Wilson, Pania Newton, Qiane Matata-Sipu and Ngati Tahinga Wilson speaking at Ihumātao. Photo / Khalia Strong

During an appearance on the Mike Hosking Breakfast show, National's finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith said Government involvement risked undermining public faith in the Treaty settlement process.

"If every generation has another crack at it like Pania Newton wants to, I think we would have real trouble maintaining public support for the whole process."

His comments echoed those of party leader Simon Bridges, who said any deal could just be "the beginning", bringing into question full and final Treaty settlements.

But Police Minister Stuart Nash told Hosking they had made it clear they were not renegotiating any Treaty deal.

"This was never part of any sort of Treaty deal. I'm not saying we are writing a cheque in shape or form. I never said we would ever write a cheque for this at all. I think we have been very clear about that.

"We had a level of conflict there that I think the Government had an obligation to go in and solve."

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.

Haki Wilson, Pania Newton, Qiane Matata-Sipu and Ngati Tahinga Wilson speaking at Ihumātao. Photo / Khalia Strong
Haki Wilson, Pania Newton, Qiane Matata-Sipu and Ngati Tahinga Wilson speaking at Ihumātao. Photo / Khalia Strong

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.

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.

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.

Speaking to media at Ihumātao on Tuesday, Newton said seeing Fletcher packing down the last of its 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 - when they refused to denounce the Kīngitanga movement, 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.

In November Heritage New Zealand proposed including the site in the bordering 100ha Ōtuataua Stonefields heritage area, increasing its heritage status from Category 2 to Category 1 - the highest level, regarded as a place of "special or outstanding heritage significance".