Progress at the disputed land, Ihumātao, remains stalled as the Crown waits for the final members of the governance group to be appointed, writes political editor Jo Moir

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson had hoped the governance group, Roopu Whakahaere, would be up and running in February but it could now be late May before that happens.

It’s been 16 months since the Government announced the controversial land – home to a long-running occupation – had been purchased by the Crown from Fletcher Building for $30 million.

By then, SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape) protesters at Ihumātao had been peacefully occupying the privately-owned land for the best part of four years.

In an interview with Newsroom this week, Jackson said Makaurau – the group representing whānau and those protesting on the land next to the Ōtuataua Stonefield’s site – had trepidation about the process and what it would mean for the land.

“They weren’t sure about the process in terms of the Crown and Kīngitanga and everything else.

“They had a bit of trepidation and given they fought the fight, I understand that,” Jackson said.

“I’ve had a bit of kōrero with them myself as have some officials over the last few months.”

That’s delayed the Kīngitanga being able to appoint its three Ahi Kā representatives, which means it’s likely to be the end of May before the governance group is up and running.

“It’s not going to happen overnight – Māori politics is a tough area.’’
– Willie Jackson, minister

The governance group will consist of seven members, made up of three Ahi Kā representatives, a Kīngitanga representative, two Crown appointees and one observer from Auckland Council.

The Crown’s appointments were made in December, but haven’t been announced due to delays around the other members of the group.

Jackson told Newsroom he knew that would leave him open to criticism about the speed in which things are progressing.

“That goes with the territory – this is a hard area,’’ he said.

“You’re talking about people having to give way and it’s taken much longer than I wanted, I wanted this to be away last year for goodness sake.’’

Jackson blames Covid for much of the delay due to the various parties not being able to meet face-to-face to work through any concerns.

“The main thing is they start working together and putting down a plan and a strategy.

“It’s not going to happen overnight – Māori politics is a tough area.’’

He said the Government has been very clear that housing needs to be part of any future plan for the land.

“That’s what the agreement was but Roopu Whakahaere will decide what type of housing it will be.’’

ACT leader David Seymour told Newsroom the only acceptable outcome is the “same amount of housing being built that was planned by the property owner prior to the Prime Minister legitimising squatters and taking Fletcher’s property rights away”.

Jacinda Ardern called a halt to any building work by Fletcher Building, who owned the land at the time of the occupation, saying until the issue with the protesters was sorted there would be no development there.

It led to the Crown having its offer to purchase the land accepted by Fletcher Building.

“It perfectly encapsulates the conflict between the Government’s political agenda for co-governance and the people of New Zealand’s practical agenda of improving their lives,” Seymour said.

A plan for how to use the land is expected to be drawn up by the end of the year, Jackson said.

He has no intentions of intervening any time soon, because he wants to give the group a decent opportunity to “nut it out’’.

Jackson accepts he underestimated how long it might take to form the group but stressed the significant impact Covid had on any progress.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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