Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall has hit back at the Ratepayers' Association's call for a referendum on Treaty negotiations - saying the association does not understand the process.

The Office of Treaty Settlements [OTS] and the Whanganui Land Settlement Negotiation Trust are negotiating the iwi's land claim.

Iwi are negotiating for ownership by return or purchase of land around the airport, a first right of refusal for harbour and city endowment land, as well as a vesting of Pākaitore, also known as Moutoa Gardens.

The trust also wants to discuss co-management with the Whanganui District Council of Pukenamu/Queens Park, Kokohuia Wetlands, Gonville Domain and Horrocks Park Reserve.

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Ratepayers' Association chairman Dave Hill sent a letter to the Whanganui Chronicle saying any transfer of land should go down to a referendum attached to this year's local body election.

"The council have no mandate and no right to sign over ownership or co-ownership or management, whatever they want to call it, of our parks and reserves without consulting the owners ... and the owners are the public of Whanganui," he said.

But, the mayor, Hamish McDouall, said Hill had misunderstood the process and council's part in it.
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Dave Hill believes the council has negotiated to hand land over to iwi in secret.
Dave Hill believes the council has negotiated to hand land over to iwi in secret.

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"Why would you have a referendum? Are you kidding?

"Dave Hill completely misunderstands the process. I would invite David and all citizens concerned to educate themselves around the Treaty Settlement process - which is between the OTS and iwi.

"What he misunderstands is the decision we made in December was to begin to talk about these things. He's about ... at least two years premature with that kind of thing."

McDouall reiterated negotiations were between the OTS and iwi.

"The key message is district council is not involved in this ... we're only involved to the extent of allowing discussions to take place and where it touches us.

"It absolutely concerns me that people make assumptions that just aren't correct.

"The fact is we will be consulting on the disposal of any significant piece of land. It's inconceivable that we wouldn't. We won't be selling our parks. If it's the Crown's desire and iwi's desire to form governance relationships around land that we've previously managed then obviously we'd want to be part of it."

At a council meeting in December, there was broad council support for all aspects of the iwi wishlist aside from councillor Charlie Anderson, who voted against the council considering a return of Airport Rd and Kai Iwi reserve land.

The OTS and the Whanganui Land Settlement Negotiation Trust were yet to sign off on an agreement in principal, McDouall said.

In his letter, Hill, said councillor David Bennett had handed the document outlining iwi land aspirations to the Ratepayers' Association, which then made it public.
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There's certainly been no negotiation with the stakeholders and that's the people who own it, the people of Whanganui.

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Hill said he believed an agreement had taken place and that it has been done in secret.

"Contrary to what the mayor has said ... he's said there's negotiations to take place.

"There might have been negotiations with the council - we don't know because of its secretive nature. There's certainly been no negotiation with the stakeholders and that's the people who own it, the people of Whanganui.

"We have a right to say whether we want our parks and reserves that have been there since year dot ... suddenly to change their status of ownership."

Hill said the document outlining iwi land aspirations was incredibly light on detail considering what it was proposing.

"While there might be public access guaranteed at this particular stage ... what's to say in 10, 20, 30 years' time some group or organisation, or person comes in and says 'hang on, we own half of this or most of it - we have a right to, for instance, put a fence along there and make a charge," he said.

"In this agreement in principal there is nothing there in writing that says all these parks and reserves in perpetuity have free public access for all the people of Whanganui to enjoy."

McDouall described public access to the land and amenities being discussed as a brightline for him and the other councillors.

"Public access ... is guaranteed. That's the one thing we were quite firm about. Secondly the ownership status is not necessarily going to change. Dave's wrong in some areas. In fact we manage, for example, Virginia Lake, Wiritoa and one other lake ... on behalf of the Crown. They're Crown owned. Gonville Domain, we own a small portion of it. DoC [Department of Conservation] owns the rest. Moutoa Gardens ... is actually in Crown ownership.

"For somebody to have made several assumptions about properties and then make further assumptions about how it's going to go ... is a bit of a shame."
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Ken Mair says it is important people understand the history behind the iwi land claim. Photo: Leigh-Marama McLachlan
Ken Mair says it is important people understand the history behind the iwi land claim. Photo: Leigh-Marama McLachlan

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The chairman of the Whanganui Land Settlement Negotiation Trust, Ken Mair, said negotiations between the trust and Crown were confidential.

"I will make this comment though and that is that we're more than happy to meet and discuss any issues, concerns or people that's needing clarification in regard to our land negotiations - which includes the Ratepayers Association."

Mair said it was important people understood the history behind the iwi land claim.
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The Waitangi Tribunal ruled the 1848 purchase was deceptive and it was wrong and they took more than they were meant to have taken. It's important for people to understand the history...

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"This desire to have a referendum is not about a numbers game is it? It's around doing the right thing and doing it with integrity ... and understanding the history of why our iwi and our hapu have been landless.

"It's a pretty straightforward history is it not? The Waitangi Tribunal ruled the 1848 purchase was deceptive and it was wrong and they took more than they were meant to have taken. It's important for people to understand the history, it's important for people to feel as though they can come and talk and we'll always put our hands up to come and meet with people to talk through any issues or concerns. It's not about numbers, it's about doing the right thing with integrity."