Govt says flag lowering at Ihumātao “significant”

A deal appears to have been reached at Ihumātao days before parties appear at Rātana Pā for the first political event of the year, Dileepa Fonseka reports. 

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said in a statement the move by Kiingi Tuheitia to lower the Kingitanga flag at Ihumātao was a significant step to resolving a dispute between protestors and Fletcher Building over the land.  

The flag was raised in August last year and a spokesperson for Tuheitia told Radio New Zealand it would only be lowered upon a successful resolution of the dispute. 

But Simon Bridges warned that a financial settlement between Fletcher Building and Mana Whenua would not be the end of the dispute. 

“Whatever deal the Government cuts isn’t going to be the end," Bridges said via a statement. "In fact, it may just be the beginning because the reality is, any sort of Government interference will call into question full and final treaty settlements," he said.

Robertson acknowledged both the lowering of the Kingitanga flag at the site and its significance.  

"We will continue work with all parties to reach a resolution. We are mindful of Fletcher's position as the legal owner of the land, and a satisfactory settlement with them is an important part of a resolution."

“At the request of mana whenua we asked the King to lead the process, and I want to recognise his expert leadership in a complex situation and commitment to finding a way through that all parties can be happy with."

Fletcher takes down fences

The lowering of the flag comes a day after Fletcher Building took down its fences at the site, a move Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) representative Pania Newton characterised as the company "packing up" in a post on her Instagram account. 

The company later told Radio New Zealand the lowering of its fence was simply a change to its traffic management plan at the site. 

Located near Auckland Airport, Ihumātao has special significance to Māori who were illegally evicted from the site during the land wars in 1863. 

It was sold to Fletcher Building in 2016 and earmarked as the site of Special Housing Area with a 480-house development to go on it.

But the sale was made over the protests of local iwi who eventually struck a deal with Fletchers. 

That didn't quell opposition to the development with SOUL occupying the land last year, before construction was set to begin. 

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