ACT MP says Kaitāia couple had property rights 'trampled on' after having to sell occupied land to council at a loss

  • 07/03/2024
The tree at 1 Wharo Way, Ahipara.
The tree at 1 Wharo Way, Ahipara. Photo credit: Google Maps

An ACT MP says a Kaitāia couple has had their property rights "trampled on" after they were essentially forced to sell their property after it had been occupied by local iwi for one year.

Northland-based ACT MP Mark Cameron said the buyout from the council using tax-payer money, which was significantly less than the couple paid for the land, is a "travesty".

Cameron said he was contacted by GP Cecil Williams last year in utter "frustration and exhaustion" at the lack of support he'd received from the council and police.

Williams claims when he bought the section on Wharo Way, Ahipara, there were no land claims. He was hoping to build a home for when he and his wife retires.

However, the local iwi members were angry after they found out a culturally significant tree was not included in a reserve at the front of the land and instead sat inside the boundaries of the section sold to the Williams. The pōhutukawa tree was not listed on the Schedule of Notable Trees or under formal council protection. 

The tree was partly cut down sparking a protest by the Te Rarawa group which set up camp on the land to protect the tree from being fully felled.

One of the occupiers, Reuben Taipari (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu, Te Rarawa, Tūhoe), told RNZ back in 2021 that they were angered by the cutting of the tree.

"I was very angry, I was also very mamae, hurt. I just wanted a tangi. And our kuia that are here today, when they came down and they heard about it... They couldn't speak. They still can't speak."

Cameron claimed the occupiers never pursued a legitimate Waitangi Tribunal process to claim the land.

After a year of occupation, the Far North District Council agreed to buy the land to solve the dispute, however, for less than the $500,000 they paid for it.

"It's prime waterfront land, but the council's independent valuation in September last year said it was only worth $400,000. Yet the council's own Quotable Value in October the year before said the property was worth $560,000. I know prices have dropped a bit, but I can’t see how such a piece of coastal land has dropped by $160,000 in a year. That's hard to take," Williams told the NZ Herald.

Williams told the outlet they felt "forced" to sell their land to the council because nobody else would buy a property that was being occupied and under such dispute. He said they are now considering leaving the town after living there for 35 years.

Cameron said the saga is a "travesty that should never be allowed to happen again, anywhere in New Zealand".

"Cecil and Marna have had their property rights trampled on, and now an isolated community risks losing a GP and a neighbour of 35 years. But the worst of it is the precedent this crime sets. It reinforces the dangerous message of the Ihumātao and Shelly Bay debacles – that a small, noisy group can illegally camp on someone else's land and be rewarded for it," he said.

"Political parties that fail to condemn illegal land occupations are complicit in the crime committed against Cecil and his wife. The Police need to update their resource-sharing protocols to nip illegal land occupations in the bud."

Newshub contacted the Far North District Council for comment but is yet to receive a response.

Cameron called on his fellow Northland-based MPS to "stand in solidarity with Cecil and Marna". 

In response, Northland-based Labour MP Willow-Jean Prime said better care should be taken to avoid similar situations in the future.

"It's unfortunate for both parties, and better care should be taken to avoid a situation like this in future. Northland is a special place and I recommend any GP considers practicing there to enjoy the beauty it offers," she said.

Newshub contacted Northland MP Grant McCallum and NZ First Minister Shane Jones' press secretaries for comment, however, did not receive a response.