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The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is asking PM Jacinda Ardern to reveal her plans for Ihumātao before the 2020 General Election, that will now happen on 17 October due to COVID-19, this will also be with the End of Life Choice and cannabis referendums.
Fletcher Building bought the land of Ihumātao in 2014. Property records reveal the company paid $19 million when the rateable price was $11.5m. During 2014, the Government and Auckland Council assigned 32 hectares adjacent to the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve as a Special Housing Area.
The area of Ihumātao Includes artefacts from the earliest Māori settlement in New Zealand, missionaries and first European farmers.
Two centuries ago, Māori was still cultivating 8000 ha of volcanic stonefields around Tāmaki-makau-rau, the Auckland isthmus. Only 160 ha of the stonefields remain.
During the early 19th-century, the stonefields were less used. Inter-tribal Musket Wars were swallowed up by urban sprawl. Conservationists had to fight hard even to save Ōtuataua’s 100 ha at Māngere, which was bought by the Manukau City Council with help from DOC, the Lotteries Commission and the Auckland Regional Council.
On February 10, 2001, one of New Zealand’s oldest sites became the newest reserve, the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve. On the site, there are Polynesian houses, storage pits, cooking shelters, terraces, mound gardens, garden plots and garden walls as well as some 19th-century European dry-stone farm walls.
“The Prime Minister needs to give taxpayers an indication of her plans for the disputed land at Ihumātao before the election,” says the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.
Not long after, a group named SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape) voiced concern and vowed to fight the housing development.
On November 5 2016, about 20 community members started camping by the side of the road and then a month later, the land was transferred to a Fletcher Residential, with the plan to build 480 houses at the site.
Campaigners and protestors refused to leave, sleeping in caravans and tents, when July of 2019 arrived, a groundswell of public support began to spring up for the SOUL movement after eviction notices were given out to those utilising the village on July 23. Many more had rushed to Ihumātao in anger and protest, and the police were called in, resulting in arrests.
On July 26 2019, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called for a discontinue any building work while the Government and other committees tried to bid on a solution. After the land was bought, Fletcher Building struck a compromise with Te Kawerau Iwi Tribal Authority to pass back 8ha to Mana Whenua.
The Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “It’s been more than a year since occupiers at Ihumātao were given an eviction notice. Since then, taxpayers have had to rely on second-hand reports about what the dispute will cost us. Insiders suggested in January, then again in February, that a deal was struck, and then in June that a deal was ‘close.’ Since then, we’ve heard nothing.”
“If the Government really plans to fork out taxpayer money to buy the land, worth up to $45 million, then the public deserves to know before the election. If a deal has fallen through because of coalition differences, we deserve to know which parties stand where before we cast our votes.”
“Voters in Auckland especially will want to know if their ratepayer money is on the line, and New Zealanders struggling with the housing shortage will want to know if there’s still hope of housing development on part or all of the site.”
“Taxpayers risk a worst-case scenario where the Government ponies up an enormous sum after the election when it knows it won’t be held accountable to voters. This would reward illegal occupiers, undermine the principle of ‘full and final’ Treaty settlements, and encourage a wave of new occupations and taxpayer-funded capitulations.”
Image courtesy: Getty