The battle over Te Tumu Kaituna 14: converting Māori freehold land to general title

By Kereama Wright

A land dispute among Māori landowners and their trustees has spilled over in the courts.

Trustees for Tumu Kaituna 14 applied to the Māori Land Court last year to convert more than 55 hectares of their 240 hectare prime coastal Māori freehold land near Maketū in the Bay of Plenty into general title.

However, opposition among some owners is growing as some fear the conversion process signals the loss of their ancestral land.

“They need to do the right thing. Just stop everything they're doing and come back to the table with their people,” says owner Renee Kiriona.

“We're not convinced that changing the land from Māori to general is going to ensure the land stays in Māori hands. it puts it at huge risk of being sold,” says Mrs Kiriona.

However, Tumu Kaituna 14 Trust chairperson Malcolm Short says the trust is seeking the conversion of title for securitisation purposes with their bank.

“So that we could get the funds to be part of the Papamoa Tauranga developments,” says Mr Short.

“We would not sell that land until it came back to the owners for their approval that we had the right project to develop it from and then with their [owners] approval, take it back to the Māori land court,” he says.

There are currently more than 4900 owners made up of individual and whanau trusts.

Tukere and Grace Rehu Whanau Trust trustee Karen Stowers has been communicating and rallying owners.

“We oppose selling the land, we oppose using the land for securitisation purposes,” says Mrs Stowers.

“The biggest issue is the lack of consultation with the majority of the owners … There's only been a very small percentage that have been consulted,” she says.

The trust conducted a postal vote over the decision to convert, where they received 75 percent support from owners who participated.

But Māori Land Court Judge Craig Coxhead dismissed the trust’s application.

The trust disputes Judge Coxhead’s decision and has appealed.

“We hope that the appeal court will see through what he got wrong,” says Malcolm Short.

“We're going concentrate mainly on the commercial developments there, that we can lease on Māori freehold land. We've got to do something that will get us money in,” he says.  

“If it’s not developed, they will lose it through not being able to pay the rates.”

However, owner Renee Kiriona disagrees. “No, I don’t accept that the rates are the threat. Right now, the rates have never been the threat, I think that's a bit scaremongerish,” she says.

A decision from the trusts appeal is expected in the next three months.