Tauranga council formally returns land to mana whenua

By Contributor

Ngāi Tamarāwaho representative Buddy Mikaere says the agreement is “another step down the road". Photo / Sun Media

By Alisha Evans, Local Democracy Reporter

Tauranga City Council has formalised an agreement to return a parcel of land in the city centre to mana whenua to right an historic grievance.

The land known as Site A of the civic precinct, will be jointly governed by the council and the Otamataha Trust through the establishment of a new council controlled organisation (CCO).

A non-binding accord recognising the agreement was signed in July and adopted by council subject to public consultation.

At a meeting on 3 October, the commissioners unanimously agreed to progress the plans.

A small group of Otamataha Trust members and hapū representatives filled the room with waiata (song) after the decision was made.

The trust represents mana whenua from Ngāi Tamarāwaho, Ngāti Tapu and Te Materāwaha hapū - direct descendants of those who originally released the land to the Church Missionary Society (CMS).

Through the agreement the land valued at $160 million will be transferred to the CCO for a "nominal price" of $1, then be leased in perpetuity back to council for a "peppercorn lease" of $1 a year.

The site will be developed by council over the coming years to create the $304m civic precinct - Te Manawataki o Te Papa (the heartbeat of Te Papa).

Te Manawataki o Te Papa will house a new library, museum, civic whare (a venue for council and community meetings) and an exhibition space.

Site A of the civic precinct. Photo / Supplied / LDR

Site A of the civic precinct. Photo / Supplied / LDR

The history of the site dates back to 1838, when mana whenua released 1333 acres of land to the CMS to be held in a sacred trust for the benefit of Māori and the church/community in the face of increasing land demand by settlers.

Between four fifths of that land was gifted by the CMS to the Crown in the 1860s, despite the objections of mana whenua, who argued that if it wasn't to be used for its original purpose, the land should be given back.

Site A was eventually transferred by the Crown to the Borough of Tauranga in 1995, to be used for municipal buildings.

The alienation from the land experienced by mana whenua was recognised by the Waitangi Tribunal as being undertaken in a manner that breached Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its principles.

The council's public consultation on the CCO proposal ran from August 24 to September 6, with 72 submissions received.

Of those, 50 were in support, 16 opposed the proposal, and six did not support the proposal in its current form.

Commission chair Anne Tolley Photo / John Borren / Sun Media via LDR

Commission chair Anne Tolley Photo / John Borren / Sun Media via LDR

Council strategic property team leader Phil Kai Fong said "key themes" identified from supporting submissions included, restoration of the mana and dignity of mana whenua on the site and restoration of trust between mana whenua and council.

As well as, reconciliation of historical grievances, benefit for all communities in Tauranga and it being "the right thing to do", said Kai Fong.

Themes from those opposed included the "perceived" financial impact on ratepayers, disagreement with co-ownership of the land and the "brevity" of the consultation period, he said.

Commission chair Anne Tolley said she was "really heartened" by the comments from the community.

"People understood that this was a longstanding matter of grievance and that it could be very simply resolved," she said.

"And [it] set up a trusting relationship [between council and mana whenua] that has no impact really on the wider community, but has enormous meaning and resolution for mana whenua.

"I know that the commission as a whole is absolutely honoured to be able to take this forward in a way that addresses a 150 year grievance, finally."

Tolley paid tribute to former Ngāi Tamarāwaho kaumātua and Otamataha Trust co-chairperson Peri Kohu who worked with council on the "historic moment" for Tauranga and passed in away in August.

Commissioner Shadrach Rolleston. Photo / John Borren / Sun Media via LDR

Commissioner Shadrach Rolleston. Photo / John Borren / Sun Media via LDR

Commissioner Shadrach Rolleston also acknowledged Kohu and his "work, sacrifice and contribution" to the decision, as well as those around him.

He said the co-ownership arrangement was for the "benefit of the city".

"I want to acknowledge the willingness or the generosity of mana whenua."

"It's always been their motivation that the city will be built on the shared understanding and shared history," said Rolleston.

At the council meeting in July, Kohu formally apologised for his role in the occupation of the then Tauranga civic centre building in 1988.

The occupation was caused by frustration at the local council, as it considered demolishing the old Town Hall to build a new civic building.

It was felt if the building were to be demolished the land should be returned to mana whenua.

Peri Kohu has “left a legacy that other people have to live up to”. Photo / Rosalie Liddle Crawford / Sun Media

Peri Kohu has “left a legacy that other people have to live up to”. Photo / Rosalie Liddle Crawford / Sun Media

Kohu was one of five activists who barricaded themselves inside the library area of the building. Then police sent in dogs which resulted in a violent altercation involving petrol, paint and fire.

He served 22 months of his two-and-a-half-year sentence for his actions.

Kohu told the meeting the time was one "where passions overtook ourselves and we had decisions and different ways rather than preparing to sit at the table and work things out".

Speaking after Monday's meeting, Ngai Tamarawaho representative Buddy Mikaere said the decision was "another step down the road".

"It's got such an ambivalent background, but this time, it looks like we've finally got an arrangement which everybody's happy with."

Mikaere said he missed Kohu "desperately" and the decision was a "nice parenthesis around his life".

"It [the decision] honours someone [Kohu] who was deeply involved with the whole process, since going to jail in 1988 over it.

"I'm so pleased we've had that happen today, for him and his family," he said.

"You could just notice everybody walked out [of the meeting] a little bit taller.

"He's left a legacy that other people have to live up to now."

Otamataha Trust chairperson Puhirake Ihaka. Photo / Rosalie Liddle Crawford / Sun Media via LDR

Otamataha Trust chairperson Puhirake Ihaka. Photo / Rosalie Liddle Crawford / Sun Media via LDR

Otamataha Trust chairperson Puhirake Ihaka (Ngāti Tapu) told Local Democracy Reporting the agreement was recognition of mana whenua having a governance role and the council returning the land in "some form".

"It's a realisation that everything that we and our ancestors before us have done over that period of time has all been worth it."

Ihaka said the CCO meant mana whenua and the council could "go forward together in true partnership" for the "good of all of the community" of Tauranga.

"We [mana whenua] thought it'll be an awesome gesture of shifting it [the land] back and letting the people of the city benefit forever from the new relationship."

Council will now proceed with finalising arrangements to establish the new CCO, to be called Te Manawataki o Te Papa Charitable Trust.

A process for appointing trustees is to be developed, with the council and Otamataha Trust to each appoint half of the trustees. The trustees are expected to be appointed before the end of the year.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air