Whanganui District Council will be given more leverage to work its way around the difficult issue of rating unused and unoccupied Maori land.

Local authorities already have the ability to cancel outstanding rates on general and Maori land, but the changes Government is planning will clarify the law around the rating of unoccupied and unused Maori land.

At the end of the council's last financial year (June 30, 2015) there was $442,000 of rates outstanding on Maori-owned land in the Whanganui district.

Julian Harkness, the council's deputy chief executive, said those outstanding rates covered one to six years.


But Mr Harkness said that amount was relatively low given the council's total rates take was about $50 million each year.

Some properties in the Whanganui area involved hundreds of owners and the vast majority were absentee owners.

The changes council could use are included in the Ture Whenua Maori Bill, which will go before Parliament this year. Te Ururoa Flavell, Maori Development Minister, said it would give councils the ability to remove rates arrears on unoccupied and unused Maori land where there was a demonstrable commitment to use or occupy land, or there was little prospect of the land ever being used or occupied.

The proposal has arisen out of a review of Maori land law which aims to make it easier for Maori land owners to make decisions about their land while ensuring its retention.

Rates arrears were identified as one of the major barriers to Maori land use at consultation hui last year.

Mr Flavell said Maori land law had been convoluted and difficult for owners to deal with for 150 years.

"It's more prescriptive than the law covering any other land in New Zealand and this has resulted in large tracts of Maori land remaining unproductive.

"This proposal will create a clean slate for owners who want to use or occupy undeveloped land but are laden with ratings debt," he said.

Other changes include the removal of a 2ha non-rating limit for marae and urupa (burial grounds), and that Maori land subject to Nga Whenua Rahui covenants will not be rated. This brings the rates for Maori land use of this nature in line with similar uses of general land including the non-rating of churches, cemeteries and QEII covenanted land.