Divide over Tauranga land site

By Kereama Wright

A Western Bay of Plenty District Councillor is disputing a Tauranga City Council proposal to return a section of land to Otamataha Trust.

11 Mission Street, in the heart of the city sits within the original Otamataha Pa site and consultation around the proposed transfer began in June.

A Stuff report found that, of the 775 submissions on the transfer, 58% portrayed negative and divisive undertones about Māori.

Councillor and Mayoral candidate Margaret Murray-Benge told Te Ao Māori news the land shouldn’t be gifted back to Māori because it was bought with ratepayers' money and raised concerns that it may set a precedent for future claims. 

“That’s what one of the councillors are saying, there are other pieces of land where Māori could make a claim on them.”

Otamataha deputy chair, Peri Kohu is disappointed in her comments, “That’s an indictment on Margaret’s education. That’s a bias that she obviously carries with her in regards to Māori.”

In 2018 the council agreed to gift the property to Otamataha Trust, an agreement supported by the Elms Foundation, which sits adjacent to the property in question.

Chair of the Elms Foundation, Ian Thomas says that, despite Murray-Benge’s view,  the foundation has no issue with the proposed transfer to Otamataha Trust and both trusts are planning to work together in future developments.

The long-term lease would be with a ‘peppercorn rental’ of $1 a year for at least 100 years.

Murray-Benge isn’t sold on the proposed agreement, “A peppercorn rental today is something, but you can’t guarantee it’s going to be something in the future.”

Te Ao Māori news asked Benge is she felt her views were racist. 

“That’s the last thing I am.  [You] can’t be racist if you see equality as being fundamental to a healthy society.”

If transferred to Otamataha Trust, the property would allow local hapū the opportunity to reconnect with ancestral land in an area of significant cultural and historical importance to them.

Kohu says, “The land was confiscated under the Suppression of Rebellion Act, NZ Settlements Act and the Native Lands Act.  You name it, all those acts that’s how we lost the land.”

While hopeful, Kohu isn’t confident the outcome will fall in their favour.

The council's decision is due on 27 August 2019. 

(Correction: A broadcast of this story incorrectly identified the Elms property as the land in question, not the adjacent site).