Hapū support for revised Waitara land bill conditional

9:59 am on 3 August 2017

Waitara hapū say their support for a bill designed to end one of New Zealand's longest running land disputes is conditional on feedback from their people.

Waitara as seen from the Manukorihi lookout. Waitara has a population of about 6800 of which about 40 percent identify as Maori.

Waitara as seen from the Manukorihi lookout. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The Maori Affairs Select Committee has given the Waitara Lands Bill its seal of approval.

If passed by Parliament, it would allow 780 leasehold properties to be made freehold, return about 60 hectares of reserve to Māori, and make another 16 hectares available for development.

The land was illegally taken following the Taranaki land wars of the 1860s.

The select committee yesterday recommended the revised Bill go to Parliament for a second reading later this month.

At a select committee hearing in Waitara earlier this year Otaraua and Manukorihi hapū members made it clear that their bottom line was the return of the stolen land and "kill the Bill" was a common refrain.

Otaraua hapū chairman Rawiri Doorbar said Waitara hapu considered the revised version a fresh start, but there was more consultation to be done.

"The timeframe we were given hasn't allowed us to take the complete revised Bill out to our people, so ultimately the jury is still out on whether this is a Bill our people can live with."

Manukorihi hapū chairperson Patsy Bodger said any decision that resulted in the land not being returned to Waitara hapu would be difficult for some members to stomach.

"It will be a huge discussion point with some of our hapu members because it's always been seen that what they wanted was to have the land back."

Otaraua hapū chair Rawiri Doorbar comforts a kuia during the hikoi.

Otaraua hapū chairman Rawiri Doorbar, left, with a kuia on a hikoi in north Taranaki last year, protesting at the original version of the Bill. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

In the revised Bill, half the money from rents or the sale of leasehold land would go to a trust directly controlled by the the hapū.

The other half would be put in a fund controlled by the council and Te Ātiawa and used to reinvest in Waitara.

In the previous version of the Bill revenue went into a fund in which the council had a role.

The leases earn about $4m annually and have a book value of about $60 million.

Reserve land and land with commercial potential slated to go to Te Ātiawa in the original Bill would instead now be returned to the Waitara hapū.

Taranaki Regional Council would have to reinvest in the Waitara catchment money earned from rents or the sale of leases it controlled.

Under the new Bill it would also be required establish a Waitara River standing committee to oversee the environmental protection of the awa.

Te Ātiawa was originally offered the Waitara land for $23m, which would have come out of its $70m settlement with the Crown, but turned down the deal.

The iwi initially supported the first version of the Waitara Lands Bill in principle, but backed out after listening to Waitara hapū.

Incoming New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom.

Neil Holdom Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom said the select committee's recommendation was a historic occasion.

Mr Holdom said the proposed Bill balanced the aspirations of hapū and leaseholders, and the council's legal obligations.

"This is a huge step forward and something we as a community have been working towards for more than 30 years."

"Waitara's story is New Zealand's story. It's an example of how we can work through an extraordinarily complex matter ... to achieve a great result for our community while balancing the needs of all our 80,000 residents."

Waitara leaseholder Trent Hall said it felt like the debate had gone full circle and had returned to when the council last had a Bill to freehold the leases before Parliament in the 1990s.

"I guess it's a win and a loss," Mr Hall said.

"The win is that finally we get what the council promised us, that we get the right to freehold.

"The loss is, of course, the time it's taken and the amount of money we'll have to pay for the land now."

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