Ngāti Te Whiti hapū says a proposed 30-year plan for the centre of New Plymouth will help restore its identity and presence in the city.
New Plymouth District Council has drawn up an ambitious strategy to reshape the inner city, including opening up pedestrian connections to the coast and more people living downtown and nearby.
The Ngāmotu New Plymouth City Centre Strategy would see buildings removed to uncover Huatoki Stream and Port Taranaki traffic moved away from the coastal route to the one-way system.
One of the city-to-coast connections would push Currie St through the site now occupied by the centre city – although that could only happen if the mall's private owner redevelops the land.
Councillors will decide whether to adopt the plan next Tuesday, but the strategy already has $13 million allocated in the district's long term plan.
Ngāti Te Whiti holds mana whenua in the central city and was brought in early to shape the plan.
The hapū delegated Linda McCulloch, supported by Te Kotahitanga o Te Ātiawa pou taiao policy adviser Sarah Mako.
McCulloch said the plan would give Ngāti Te Whiti a presence that was currently missing.
"It's going to help our whānau in terms of their identity and their place in the central business district and the rohe of Ngāmotu which has been lacking for a number of years.
"As a hapū we know where we're from, but we lack that visual presence."
McCulloch said Ngāti Te Whiti sites will be recognised including Pukeariki Pā, Waimanu Pā where Bunnings now stands, and other pā, although it's not yet decided what form that will take.
She said it was a chance to restore and recognise the names of places on "the whenua that sustained our whānau".
"We can tell our cultural narrative of our relationship with the whenua and with our tipuna who lived here, and how our relationships have developed over time with new arrivals."
McCulloch said as kaitiaki of the central city Ngāti Te Whiti was pleased the uncovering of the Huatoki Stream would enhance the mauri (essential life force) of the stream and surrounds.
The council wants to develop a co-governance model with Ngāti Te Whiti and McCulloch says the involvement of the hapū from the beginning is better than she has seen in 30 years dealing with local government.
"Iwi are demanding the council and other groups work like this so it'll become common practice."
NPDC's planning and infrastructure group manager David Langford said councillors had prioritised working with mana whenua in the district's long term plan, so Ngāti Te Whiti were brought in early.
"When I saw the map of where their historic settlements were, all spread throughout the whole area that is now the centre city, it gave a real meaning to the key move which is to get people living back in the centre city."
Langford said while the council would work on public spaces, the City Centre Strategy also depended on landowners' private property developments aligning with the plan over the next 30 years.
He said having Ngāti Te Whiti help set the strategy from the beginning should make it easier for the hapū – and the council – to approve future developments.
"If mana whenua can see their values captured in the developments, then they're going to be there to help … If we can see the strategy coming alive in your development you're pushing against an open door."
The Taranaki Chamber of Commerce has also helped set the strategy and its chairman Daniel Fleming also thinks hapū involvement could be good for developers.
"I think Ngāti Te Whiti will be saying: we're invested in this, we love this, our heart's in it, what do you need, how do we make it successful? Rather than saying you haven't done this yet. So I'm hoping it might be a smoother process."
Fleming said having Māori history visible would be good for both tourism and locals.
"Tourists walk around the city and they have no idea of the history and the culture and what's there – and it's hard to find those stories, so I think that'll be interesting for people.
"Even us as locals, we don't know enough about our culture and history."
The Ngāmotu New Plymouth City Centre Strategy has a long path ahead: if councillors give the go ahead on Tuesday, more detailed planning begins before work on the ground starts from 2024.
Strategy aims include that "significant developments are shaped by meaningful engagement with mana whenua and reflect identified Māori design principles".
It also sets out that "te reo Māori is visible in bilingual signage and dual naming of public spaces, road names, public buildings and key new developments".
Green corridors from the coast to Pukekura Park and Pukaka Pā (Marsland Hill) will be part of native tree plantings to boost biodiversity.