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Green light for houses by historic stonefields

The Environment Court has found in favour of Heritage New Zealand's approval of a contentious housing development in South Auckland.

In less than two years, house hunters in Auckland may be able to buy new homes bordering one of the country’s most historic archaeological sites. 

Māngere’s Ōtuataua Stonefields, which overlook the Manukau Harbour and are on the Ihumātao Peninsula, are a step closer to having new neighbours following the release of an Environment Court decision.

The appeal, before Judge David Kirkpatrick, environment commissioner Kevin Prime and deputy environment commissioner Glenice Paine, confirmed as correct the original Heritage New Zealand decision to grant archaeological authority for building on the Ōruarangi Road property.

Heritage NZ is involved in the Ōruarangi Road property because of several archaeological sites. Legally, land owner Fletcher Residential must obtain the agency’s permission to undertake earthworks on the 33 hectare plot via its archaeological authority process. Fletcher plans to build 480 homes there. 

When Heritage NZ signed off the company’s application outlining how it planned to maintain integrity of archaeological sites during the build, when it reviewed the archaeological authority in September last year. 

In response, an appeal was filed in the Environment Court claiming Heritage NZ’s decision failed to preserve and protect the archeological sites at Ōruarangi Rd. The Save Our Unique Landscape protest group (SOUL), which has spearheaded opposition to the Fletcher development, was one of three appellants. They alleged Heritage NZ failed to account for historical and cultural values which were significant to Māori.

Fletcher Residential chief executive Steve Evans said the outcome was “great for Auckland”.

“Clearly, we have got - now - the legal authority to go ahead.

“We’re working with iwi and other stakeholders to determine what is the appropriate time to start on site. 

“I anticipate that we will have homes to sell in 2020.”

Evans noted the court decision outlined Fletcher’s ongoing consultation process with Te Kawerau Iwi Tribal Authority around its building plans for the land. 

“There’s a whole lot of misconceptions out there, and the primary misconception is that we haven’t worked with iwi. Actually, we’ve worked hand in glove with iwi,” Evans said.

"We have made a whole bunch of responses with iwi on the development and the community opinion, in our view, is based on misconception that iwi doesn’t support us. Whereas the reality is, if you look through the court documents and other documents, they do.”

This...is privately owned farmland that has gone through the Waitangi [Tribunal] process. If they have an argument that this should remain as Māori land, than arguably any piece of private land in Aotearoa is now up for grabs.

Evans also highlighted the buffer-zone Fletcher had inserted to ensure there was space between homes and the Stonefields.   

“There are people who think that we’re destroying the Stonefields themselves. We’re not.

“In fact, we’re giving over 25 percent of our land to augment the already 100 hectare Stonefields.”

Despite that, SOUL remains firm on its mandate to oppose the Fletcher build. Spokesperson Pania Newton, whose connection to Ihumātao is recited as part of her whākapapa, told Newsroom the group had more than 1000 people registered in protest to the Fletcher development. 

She also produced a letter from Makaurau Marae which appeared to show that the local marae does not support the planned housing development. Dated August 2015, the letter said:

“Makaurau Marae Reservation Trust, Executive and Marae committee endorse our rangatahi (members of SOUL) and give them full support to proceed with opposition to the SHA 62 Oruarangi Road, Ihumatao.”

It was signed-off by Janice Roberts, chair of the Makaurau marae committee, and Rapata Roberts, head of the Makaurau marae reservation trust. 

Newton, who is open about refusing to meet Fletcher, also questioned how representative Te Kawerau Iwi Tribal Authority is of iwi members. The authority body, headed by Te Warena Taua, continues to be the main iwi contact for Evans and Fletcher.

“I’ve tried to engage with them [Te Kawerau Iwi Tribal Authority]. They don’t seem to have any general meetings, and I’ve just not had any success with meeting with them,” Newton said.

Evans, who recognises there are those who do not agree with the planned development, reiterated why Fletcher has dealt with the authority body, 

“We have regular, detailed and productive discussions with those that are mandated with mana whenua on the land [Te Kawerau Iwi Tribal Authority]. Those iwi have made it very clear that they don’t think that the vast majority of the protestors stand as representatives of that process, and we look forward to continuing the process with iwi.”

He also made it clear Fletcher is within its rights to continue.

“This land is private land. It is privately owned farmland that has gone through the Waitangi [Tribunal] process. If they have an argument that this should remain as Māori land, than arguably any piece of private land in Aotearoa is now up for grabs - and we clearly don’t think that that’s the case.”

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