Finding land to build more houses in Auckland is motherhood and apple pie. You might think the more so if you can also resolve a Treaty of Waitangi claim at the same time.

But the Pt England Development Enabling Bill creates a dangerous precedent for the future commercial development of reserve land for housing, both in Auckland and across New Zealand.

Pt England Reserve was given to the people of New Zealand for use as open space in 1945 after being owned and farmed by European settlers since 1841. The National Party would have you believe that it is wasted land, used only for grazing cows.

In fact, as anyone familiar with the area will already know, the reserve is a much-loved and much-needed public space that is enjoyed by the community year-round. Parts of the reserve hold ecological and cultural values, including part of a coastal walkway, and an established natural habitat for birds.


Only a minority of the open rural land is grazed, and this is to support the funding of the general maintenance of the reserve.

These playing fields are regularly used by local schools and communities for cricket, kilikiti, football and rugby league. This is in addition to family and social gatherings. Many people will also have attended the larger public annual events that take place at the reserve, such as Music in the Parks and Movies in the Parks, and the hugely popular Weet-Bix TRYathlon.

One third of these playing fields will be lost if the Government has its way. The overall impact of this Bill is to revoke the reserve status of over a quarter of the reserve, and make it available for commercial housing development.

In forcing through this legislation, the National Party is waving the affordable housing flag. Do not be distracted by this. Unlike the Riccarton Racecourse legislation, which was passed to allow urgent housing development following the Christchurch earthquakes, there is no requirement for a certain amount of affordable housing to be built in this Bill.

And given that the Auckland City Unitary Plan has already identified large parts of Tamaki for housing intensification (a threefold increase is anticipated over the next 15 years), isn't it illogical to cut down on open public spaces in an area that will need it most? It is clear from the amount of use that the reserve already gets that the residents need this space.

Furthermore, in an effort to get this Bill through, the Government is also worsening race relations by calling it a Treaty settlement and pitting the Tamaki community against a local iwi. This is cynical, to say the least. Particularly when there are no safeguards in place to ensure that the iwi even receives the land once its reserve status is revoked. The iwi is nowhere mentioned in the Bill.

What is more, there are viable and preferable alternatives to the commercial deal being offered to the iwi to develop the land as housing in partnership with private developers.

These include the fact that the iwi could be offered land from the Tamaki Regeneration Company housing development next to the reserve. The Government could also offer the iwi co-governance of the reserve, in recognition of the spiritual connection that it has with the land. This is surely a more fitting solution than commercial property development.

Save Our Reserves is a group made up of local people - a grassroots apolitical movement with the single purpose of preventing the selloff of public open spaces for housing, and preserving them for future generations.

Representatives have been visiting the reserve to make sure people are fully aware of the underhand way in which the National Party is pushing through this Bill.

Because this is a deal that has been done without any consultation with the local community prior to its first reading before Parliament: a suspicious move that makes it clear the Government knew there would be opposition.

Furthermore, Ngati Paoa is now advertising for members of its whanau to sign off the deed of settlement, yet the Bill is still awaiting its second reading.

So is Parliament sovereign, or do we have a Fitzgerald v Muldoon scenario in which the Government has decided that it does not need to wait?

On closer examination this Bill begins to look like nothing better than a land grab by National. If the reserve status of Pt England is revoked and the land developed, it will be lost to the community forever.

It is clear from the vocal opposition that if this Bill goes ahead, the Tamaki community will never again see this Government as fair or reasonable. So protesting is the only thing its residents have left to do - and what we all must do - if we care about the future of our green spaces; if we care where our children and grandchildren are going to play.

• Julie Chambers is the chairman of Save our Reserves. The Bill is back before Parliament tomorrow.