Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Mike Butler: Waitara leaseholders pressured

A further step in a long-running dispute over leasehold land at Waitara, 16km from New Plymouth, was made last night when the New Plymouth District Council voted unanimously in favour of a proposed local bill.

That bill would give 76 hectares of land to Taranaki tribe Te Atiawa and give Waitara leaseholders the right to buy the land under their homes.

Leasehold land at Waitara has history. Just 48 per cent of the land was part of the Peka Peka block, a dispute over which sparked armed conflict in Taranaki from 1860 to 1861.

Land owner Te Teira Manuka wished to sell the land to the government but a third party, Wiremu Kingi, opposed any sale, sparking conflict.

Sporadic fighting in Taranaki for one year from March 1860 resulted in the deaths of 196 anti-government Maori, and that of 64 pro-government Maori, settlers, and British troops, the destruction of the local economy, and the confiscation of 187,000ha of land.

Subsequently, the Crown gifted confiscated land, including that at Waitara, to local authorities. The New Plymouth District Council administers the Waitara endowment land under the Waitara Harbour Act 1940 and the Waitara Borough Reserves Vesting Act 1909, both of which limit what the council can do with the endowment land and funds gained from that land. (1)

Te Atiawa have tried to get this land back. Central government sought to solve the problem through the 1944 Taranaki Maori Claims Settlement Act, through which the Taranaki Maori Trust Board received a ₤5000 annuity backdated to 1926, plus a £300 lump sum payment for loss of property at Parihaka in 1881.

The Treaty of Waitangi Act was amended in 1985 to enable claims back to 1840. Taranaki tribes were able to make new claims over old grievances which included confiscated land at Waitara.

Meanwhile, leaseholders have tried to freehold their sections. In 1989, the council decided to freehold the land, and a bill was taken to Parliament.

However, the government of the day raised concerns about the land being sold and asked for a solution to be reached with Te Atiawa.

In 2014, the council offered to transfer the Waitara leasehold land to Te Atiawa for $23-million for inclusion in the tribe's $87-million treaty settlement with the Crown.

The tribe, however, refused the offer and instead entered into an agreement with the council to take a local bill to Parliament, which would allow for the leases to be made freehold.

The New Plymouth District Council website refers to a “high-level heads of agreement with Te Atiawa’s post-settlement governance entity (Te Kotahitanga o Te Atiawa Trust) to promote a Local Bill through Parliament”.

At that time, the council offered to give Te Atiawa land in order to get a deal. That gift, according to Radio NZ, is about 60 hectares of reserve land plus another 16ha for development. (2).

In the proposal, put out for public consultation for a month from April 20, with public hearings in June, the tribe would also have the right of first refusal on other council land. Leaseholders have battled long and hard for the right to buy the land under their houses.

From 2004 to 2010, the Waitara Leaseholders Association and individual leaseholders took legal action against the council at a total cost of $800,000 and lost. The council spent $2-million.

Leasehold land, like that at Waitara used to be a cheaper option of buying a house because the land was not included in the purchase price, although ground rent was required.

Over the years, the asking price for such houses gradually increased as councils, which usually own the land, extracted increasing amounts of ground rent. The demand for leasehold houses diminished as ground rent increased and homeowners found them more difficult to sell.

Waitara Leaseholders Association secretary Eric Williams said his home has a QV of $250,000, which is the value used to set his rates, yet he would be lucky to be able to sell it for $120,000.

The council caused a substantial problem when it offered to sell to Te Atiawa for substantially less than the deal offered to leaseholders.

Mr Williams said the deal the New Plymouth District Council offered to Te Atiawa for the 700 sections in 2014 was far more attractive than the one now being offered to lessees.

"They are talking about unimproved value, which talking to them is government valuation, and that means it will cost me $100,000 [to freehold] and that's the same land they offered to iwi at under $30,000.” (3)

New Plymouth’s mayor Andrew Judd has complicated matters by adopting a position as a treaty rights activist.

For instance, he told Fairfax Media that he wanted to "raise a mirror up to Pakeha New Zealand" to address what he calls the nation's "hypocrisy" over the Treaty of Waitangi”. (4)

Last year Judd championed a Maori ward in the New Plymouth district. When it was voted down by 83 percent in a referendum he complained to the United Nations and took a petition to Parliament seeking to remove the requirement of a referendum should a council propose a Maori ward.

One further issue is that of local government entering the treaty settlement business.

Te Atiawa is to receive a substantial settlement of $87-million and this is described as “full and final”. Included in this settlement is a 172-year right of first refusal to specified surplus core Crown land in the area. All the settlement said in relation to the Waitara endowment land was:
The Deed of Settlement and the settlement legislation provides a mechanism to allow Te Kotahitanga and the New Plymouth District Council to enter into agreement to purchase any of the Waitara Endowment Lands. If agreement is reached the endowment land will transfer free of all statutory restrictions. This process is voluntary and there is no obligation on the parties to enter into any agreement for the sale and purchase of the Waitara Endowment Lands. (5)
On top of the settlement, the New Plymouth District Council proposes to give the tribe 76ha as well as a right of first refusal to council property.

Waitara leaseholders are increasingly looking like collateral damage in the struggle for spoils between tribes and the Crown.

1. Proposed local bill for Waitara endowment land.
2. Long-running land dispute nears resolution, Radio NZ, April 13, 2016.
3. Land offer after iwi deal labelled racist, Taranaki Daily News, April 5, 2016.
4. Govt to consider Maori seats on all district councils, Stuff, April 11, 2016.
5. Te Atiawa Taranaki Deed of Settlement.


Kay Spence said...
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Please, please Council, get this settled. Most of us are going to die before the Waitara leaseholders are adequately compensated.

Kay Spence

B.Jones said...
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How many payments have been paid out to New Plymouth Maori. I have tried to keep up with the ever pay me pay me claims of Taranaki Tribes. I'm pleased I don't live over there. B Jones

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