A Māori land protest which went all the way to the United Nations has failed in a New Zealand Court, allowing this country's largest developer go ahead with a 480-unit Auckland housing estate at Ihumātao
The Environment Court rejected the appeal from Māori land protester Pania Newton and others, fighting against development of a site neighbouring land said to New Zealand's equivalent of England's Stonehenge for its archaeological importance.
Fletcher Residential can now begin developing 33.4ha beside the historic Ōtuataua Stonefields at Māngere near the airport and its chief Steven Evans this morning vowed to begin work next year.
Newton of Save Our Unique Landscape and others challenged Heritage New Zealand for allowing Fletcher to go ahead and she last year claimed a UN victory, although Fletcher disputes that.
Read more: Opinion about development work
"The UN recommended the Government re-evaluate the special housing area at Ihumātao because they recognise that Māori were not adequately consulted during its designation and that Māori did not give their free prior and informed consent," Newton said last September after putting her case to the UN.
But the Environment Court has just issued its decision which rejected her appeal, saying it was satisfied with Heritage NZ's decision to grant authority to allow work to go ahead.
"The archaeological sites which are known to be affected do not present such historical and cultural heritage value as to prevent or further restrict the reasonable future use of the site," said the decision from Judge David Kirkpatrick and two commissioners.
Read more: UN committee on Māori consulted on Ihumātao
The court acknowledged the relationships of Māori with the land but said those relationships had been considered.
Newton, kuia Betty King who has undisputed whakapapa to Makaurau Marae, Ngā Kaitiaki o Ihumātao Charitable Trust and SOUL Ihumātao took the case against Heritage NZ which said it granted authority for a site which excluded areas of archaeological importance.
Building work was also subject to conditions, it said, so that if archaeological discoveries are made, correct procedure is followed.
Archaeologist Dave Veart submitted that authority from Heritage NZ was issued contrary to its policies and best archaeological practice, the court said. He criticised a lack of assessment of the total remaining archaeological resource available and the importance of the affected area. He fears obliteration of the archaeological values of the site.
But Heritage NZ said it granted authority for work which "excludes areas of archaeological sites including burial caves, the remains of the 19th century Wallace homestead and part of remaining dry stone wall features."
Evans said this morning there were three "myths about the work: one that we didn't consult iwi and we did; two that we are building on the stonefields and we are not because we are building beside them; and three that the UN had a problem with what we are doing but the UN doesn't have a problem with Fletcher and what we are doing".
The court noted all earthworks were to be monitored by an archaeologist approved by Heritage NZ. Any archaeological evidence encountered was to be investigated, recorded and analysed. Before earthworks start, an archaeological investigation must be made of the listed sites. A public interpretation panel must be erected.
Evans said Auckland needed more housing, the site was close to major employment zones including the airport and the first houses will be completed there by 2020.
"This is not like Bastion Point," Evans said. "That was public land. Fletcher's land is private, cultivated farm land with no trace of stonefields that the court has found not to be rare or unique."