No easy answer in Pt England land tussle

The Point England community looks sure to lose a good chunk of open space as the Government over-rides objections and nails it for housing. Alexia Russell reports

Opponents describe it as a Government land-grab that will deprive a community of much needed open space and destroy the nesting grounds of endangered birds. 

The Government says it's freeing up land for desperately required homes in Auckland while honouring a Treaty settlement for Ngāti Pāoa.

Labour has an alternate plan it believes will make everyone happy that no one is listening to. 

The Auckland Council, desperate to get more homes built in the city, wants it to remain a reserve. 

And the iwi at the centre of this controversy is resolutely buttoning lips until it's a done deal. 

The debate over the Pt England reserve, a public green space in East Tamaki with sport fields, waterfront access and rare nesting dotterels, has sparked three petitions, more than 100 select committee submissions, a lobby group called Save Our Reserves, and a great deal of anger and anxiety on all sides.

This week, the bill that would ride over both the Reserves Act and the Resource Management Act to enable a housing development next to a marae planned separately, passed its second reading in Parliament. With Māori Party support, it looks like a done deal. Save Our Reserves however is still hopeful this "flawed and unfortunate" bill won't go ahead.

The voice that is markedly absent from this debate is that of Ngāti Pāoa. The iwi is keeping its head down until the legislation is sewn up. Newsroom spoke briefly to Hauauru Rawiri, co-negotiator of the iwi's Treaty of Waitangi Settlement, who said the iwi is mindful of the noise over green space and dotterels, but "our position is very clear in terms of our Treaty redress".

The marae site, which will occupy two hectares of the reserve, is ancestral land and cultural redress, and the other 11.69 hectares, which is the subject of the Bill, is adjacent to it. A land swap with nearby property belonging to the Government owned Tamaki Redevelopment Company, as Labour has proposed, "is not being considered".

Any further comment was curtailed as the iwi's communication company swept in, saying the iwi would not discuss the issue while it is before the House. It provided a statement however saying "the team is looking forward to being able to re-engage with the community over the iwi's proposed housing project soon. The iwi is confident it has the capacity and expertise to carry out the project. 

"The iwi has refused to buy into political arguments over whether the reserve status should be revoked over the 11.69ha covered by the bill," said the statement. 

"However, Mr Rawiri re-iterates that Ngāti Pāoa is not seeking any other land nearby.

"This is the land where our ancestors lived and fought and died. For Ngāti Pāoa this enabling Bill is Treaty settlement legislation." He described the area as "significant customary whenua", and said Ngāti Pāoa wants to restore the land and its waterways, to rebuild a vibrant community and a new marae that is available to the whole community, as well as develop housing for local people." 

Save Our Reserves

The silence from the iwi frustrates Julie Chambers, who leads the Save Our Reserves group. She doesn't understand why nearby land, which is to be the site of intensive housing redevelopment, can't be offered instead - and Ngāti Pāoa has not stepped up to explain. In the face of the seemingly inevitable, she says, "We are still hopeful". 

"The loss of the sports fields will be deeply grieved by many members of the local community," she told Newsroom

"And the destruction of bird nesting areas and the inevitability of the death of endangered birds is of huge concern." Chambers said it was difficult to understand how people could say that migratory birds can be shifted. "It's difficult to see how you would advise a returning dotterel to shift its nest a kilometre sideways because their nesting area has become a building site."

"We are hoping common sense will prevail." Chambers says the legislation is a serious Government intent to ignore and override "any voices of concern and opposition".

The planned development area is outlined in red. Photo: Point England Concept Plan 

She said if the land is so culturally important, why is the iwi simply going to sell it to private purchasers as soon as they get it? "We don't know - they are not saying." 

"They say they are 'Ngāti Pāoa of the listening ears': but they are not listening. I still can't understand how Māori can deny responsibility for protecting vulnerable species in New Zealand."

Chambers said Save Our Reserves has always taken the position that the community should speak with Ngāti Pāoa, but they have declined. "Marae are supposed to be meeting places. How can they say they want a marae when they decline to meet?"  

The Government's behaviour, said Chambers, has turned it into a really challenging situation. "This is a failure of leadership." 

"This is about money: so the iwi can sell the land. The Government claims to have billions in surpluses but they are selling off park reserve land gifted to all New Zealanders for open space. There are other options. And if it's only 'a little bit of land' as (Housing Minister) Nick Smith says, why don't they just take a little bit of the Remuera Golf Course and see how that goes down?"

Labour's plan

Labour's spokesman for housing and Auckland issues, Phil Twford, says this plan is not about cultural redress. 

"We have no beef with Ngāti Pāoa. We understand their aspirations. They are negotiating to have a place to stand, on land of cultural significance to them. What we object to is the Crown taking nearly 12 hectares of publicly-owned recreational land that is precious to (the Point England) community," he said. 

"It sets a very unfortunate precedent with the Government overriding both the Reserves Act and the Resource Management Act." 

Twyford decries Nick Smith's often repeated line that at a time when Auckland is experiencing a severe housing shortage, it shouldn't have 18 hectares fenced off for cattle grazing just 10km from the CBD. 

"That's total nonsense: what about Cornwall Park? There are half a dozen city parks that have grazing. That's theatrics from Nick Smith and I don't think anyone buys it." 

Twyford pointed out that the Glen Innes/Pt England area is slated for serious intensification when it comes to housing stock, and says when there are 20,000 more people in that area in 30 years' time, the open space will be needed. "Where are they going to go for recreation?" 

He said the National Party has suffered from ministers in this policy area who are not from Auckland, and who don't understand Auckland. "National is doing a gross disservice to the local community, and to Ngāti Pāoa."

His solution is to trade the land being given to Ngati Paoa for land within the nearby Tamaki Redevelopment Company - established only a year ago.

Smith's reply to that is it is not a credible alternative because it is already committed to housing and does not add to supply. "Ngāti Pāoa has also made plain that this ancestral block of Point England is pivotal to their settlement."

Twyford however said Labour had tried really hard to present an alternative plan which it thinks could be a win-win. "If the Government embraced that, Ngāti Pāoa could get their settlement and get the community onside."

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