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Ihumātao governance group formed but lacking consensus

Eighteen months after the Crown bought the long-disputed land at Ihumātao, the governance group tasked with working out what to do with it has finally met, writes political editor Jo Moir

In December, a year after the Crown purchased Ihumātao, the Government announced it had made its two appointments to the governance group that would determine how the land be used – but stalling from other parties meant it hadn’t progressed.

The hold-up was with the Kīngitanga selecting the hapū/iwi who would make up the three Ahi Kā representatives on the committee.

Te Aakitai Waiohua, one of the mana whenua groups with a spot on the governance group, was understood to be a roadblock because of trepidation about the process and what it would mean for the land next to the Ōtuataua Stonefield’s site.

The Crown bought the land from Fletcher Building for $30 million, using money set aside for housing, after years of protest and occupation at the privately-owned site.

Almost 18 months to the date the land was purchased, the three Ahi Kā representatives have been mostly decided and the group had its first meeting with Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson late last month.

Jackson described the meeting as “interesting” and that he was now “going to leave them to it” to knock out a plan in the five-year timeline the group’s been given.

“Eighteen months of it has gone, they need to knock out a plan that’s appropriate, particularly in terms of housing, that’s our expectation,” he told Newsroom.

The Archdeacon for the Kīngitanga and secretary to King Tuheitia, Ngira Simmonds, told Newsroom a lot of work has gone into forming the governance group but not everyone is convinced yet.

“I think it’s fair to say there was robust discussion and not 100 percent consensus at this stage,” he said.

The Ahi Kā representatives are made up of three mana whenua – Te Aakitai Waiohaua, Te Kawerau aa Maki and Te Ahiwaru.

But Te Aakitai Waiohaua’s representative has still not been officially appointed due to ongoing concerns about the process and the need to engage with the Crown.

“There’s some reluctance there, however, they remain open to talking and working with us, so we’ve just said we need to keep moving forward and keep talking and coming together and there’s unanimous support for that,” Simmonds said.

The governance group plans to meet once a month, but some are still questioning what the mandate and terms of reference are and what the future holds for the country.

“It’s a really hard discussion and for some of the mana whenua groups the notion of being on the committee with the Crown is a struggle.”

Simmonds told Newsroom everyone went into this knowing housing had to be part of the solution.

While some opposite housing being built at Ihumātao, he said “everyone is quite pragmatic about some of those realities and the minister has made it clear”.

“When the Crown stepped in, they were very upfront they were using housing money to do this. So, I think we can’t get three quarters of the way in and say no, because that was a fundamental from day one.”

One way Simmonds says the housing dispute could be worked around is using land owned by Waikato-Tainui.

“There are other lands nearby that are tribally owned that were returned in our settlement that could provide solutions in that housing area.

“But we’re still in the ideas phase and just trying to get everyone in the same room,” he said.

The governance group is unique in that other than a five-year timeline it doesn’t have a specific mandate or terms of reference – it’s for those on the group to work out.

“I know there are members of the public in wider New Zealand who have concerns about that and think that’s a long period of time,” Simmonds said.

“I think in the context of what happened at that whenua, it’s not really.”

Simmonds says people shouldn’t “underestimate how hard this is going to be” but as long as everyone stays at the table it can be resolved.

Jackson has appointed Dr Charlotte Severne and Bernie O’Donnell to represent the Crown on the committee and Auckland Council will select an observer to attend meetings.

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