Ngāti Kauwhata taking a stand against Kiwi Rail plans

By Ruamano Te Koi

Ngāti Kauwhata of Manawatū is taking a stand against Kiwi Rail’s proposed inland port site, which will cover more than 150 hectares of land in Feilding.

The inland port is aimed at significantly removing heavy vehicles from urban streets and improve the transfer of goods and is being funded by a Provincial Growth Fund grant of $40 million.

Ngā Kaitiaki o Ngāti Kauwhata chair Dennis Emery is concerned the inland port will have social, ecological, environmental, and cultural impacts on mana whenua and the wider community and wants to continue negotiating with Kiwi Rail, which he said, had had to be forced to talk to his iwi in the first place by then Provincial Growth Fund minister Shane Jones. He says the inland port is a good concept and the iwi is not opposed to it because there will be huge opportunities for iwi members.

"We just want the site agreed to last October."

“It’s a project to them but it means a lot to us. It's our legacy,” Emery says.

He says Kiwi Rail had started with eight potential sites and the iwi had helped them come down to two before the Covid-19 lockdown. 

At one stage there was a suggestion by Kiwi Rail that Aorangi marae might have to shift and move the marae right away.

"And they were looking to lay the railway right through there but we said kao.”

He says Manawatū iwi had an understanding of Kiwi Rail's plans. However, Covid-19 struck, which led to the development being postponed.

“What I’ve learned is the project team was having some conversations during lockdown and, when we had come out of lockdown, they had changed the site. We’re going to have to continue our negotiation with them and we will."

Emery says the iwi had taken an opportunity to take some of the project leaders to the areas that they were supporting for the freight hub "and it happened to rain like nothing that day.

"We showed them all the waterfalls, and all the flooding areas. It was an area close by where we have recently had a fatality between a train and a bus where Ngāti Kauwhata wahine was killed."

“But we took them there to explain to them that this area that Kiwi Rail is pushing for isn’t the area we originally agreed to,” Emery says. 

Last week KiwiRail has lodged its notice of requirement to designate 177.7 hectares of land along Railway Rd between the airport and Bunnythorpe for the freight yards.

Kiwi Rail is using its $40 million grant to buy land and plans to have distribution and logistics partners to help invest $2-4 billion in the site.

KiwiRail’s notice lists job creation, economic growth, greater use of rail to reduce carbon emissions and improved transport safety among the development’s positive effects.

It acknowledges noise, increased transport movements, and visual and landscape changes among the adverse effects during and after construction.

Stormwater management features are an issue for the undulating site, which will need to be levelled.

The notice says there may be negative effects for flooding and water quality downstream but KiwiRail has plans to improve ecological values.

It expects significant social effects on residents, including those whose properties would be bought and neighbours living nearby. The rail company has offered some solutions for that. 

Public submissions will be called for in the new year.

An independent panel of four commissioners will hear Kiwi Rail's app0lication.