19 Jan 2009

Public to have say on beach deal

3:42 pm on 19 January 2009

The Government is assuring the public it will have a say on a proposed government deal with Ngati Porou that would allow some parts of coastal areas north of Gisborne to be shut off.

The Crown and the iwi signed a deed of settlement under the Foreshore and Seabed Act last year that would enable Ngati Porou to close coastal areas considered sacred.

Keith Ingram of the Recreational Fishing Council said the public has not been consulted, so there is no way of knowing whether entire beaches would be off limits.

Mr Ingram agrees that areas such as burial grounds should be respected.

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson said the legislation introduced to Parliament by the previous government that would allow the deal to take effect has not yet had its first reading.

If it passes, it will be referred to the Maori Affairs Select Committee and people will be invited to make submissions.

Mr Finlayson said reports suggesting large stretches of coastline would be off limits were absurd.

Ngati Porou said it would make and enforce decisions based on established processes that are transparent.

Ngati Porou lawyer Matanuku Mahuika, who helped negotiate the settlement, says the suggestion there could be mass beach closures is without foundation.

Mr Mahuika said the protections are aimed at caring for spiritually significant sites, and a process must be followed before the protections are available.

He said public access could be restricted only in areas where Ngati Porou is able to establish territorial customary rights.

He said most of the access to the relevant parts of the coastline is across Maori land, meaning access is already informally regulated.