Ihumātao deal reached: Government to purchase south Auckland land from Fletcher Building for $30 million

The Government will purchase the land at Ihumātao for $29.9 million, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson has confirmed, in a deal signed off by the Kīngitanga, the Crown and Auckland Council. 

"I want to thank all the parties involved for working together to come to this agreement," Robertson said on Thursday, following more than a year of negotiations over how to settle the land dispute. 

"I particularly want to thank Kīngi Tuheitia and his officials for their leadership of this process. He Pūmautanga represents the starting point for the future of Ihumātao."

A Memorandum of Understanding, or He Pūmautanga, has been signed by the Kīngitanga, the Crown and Auckland Council which sets out how parties will work together to decide the future of the land.

"It is important that those who have an interest in the future of Ihumātao have a seat at the decision making table," said Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson.

"To that end, a steering committee will be formed working on a consensus basis to make those decisions and guide the process from here."

The south Auckland land is being purchased from Fletcher's under the Land for Housing Programme, which converts existing Crown land and purchases additional land from the private market to provide residential land supply for development.

Housing Minister Megan Woods confirmed parties have committed that there will be housing on the site. The land could be used to include Papakainga housing, housing for mana whenua and some public housing. 

"It will be a sensitive development that recognises the special characteristics of the land," Dr Woods said. "There is a need for housing to support kaumatua and kuia of this place and this agreement recognises that."

Alongside housing, the parties want to use some of the land to provide better recognition of the cultural and heritage values associated with Ihumātao, Robertson said. 

Auckland Council will play a role in the care and maintenance of the land.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson. Photo credit: Getty

Fletcher Building CEO Ross Taylor thanked the Government for the "pragmatic way" they approached the process.

"We also acknowledge the iwi who we engaged with throughout the consenting and proposed master planning of the land. Any plans for the land are now a matter for the Crown and Kiingitanga," he said.

"Finally, we thank our people and the many police officers, whanau representatives, security staff and neighbours of Ihumātao for their patience and understanding."

The Government is purchasing the land at $10 million more than the $19 million Fletchers paid for it back in 2014 and $10 million less than the $40 million the company wanted for it. 

Opposition to the Government purchasing the land focused on fears that it could place a question mark over all full and final Treaty of Waitangi settlements. Protestors opposing a development at Wellington's Shelly Bay might sit tight and wait for the Government to step in.

But the land has been purchased in a transaction that's outside the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process, avoiding any conflicts with other settlements.

The Crown will now hold the land on trust while a Kiingitanga-led process is undertaken to decide the occupation status of parties who claim a connection to the whenua.

"After more than 160 years of alienation from Ihumaatao, the descendants of the original owners will be reconnected with their whenua," a spokesperson for the Māori King, Kiingi Tūheitia, said on Thursday. 

Kiingi Tuuheitia thanked Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for her leadership in negotiating a positive outcome.

Ihumātao deal reached: Government to purchase south Auckland land from Fletcher Building for $30 million
Photo credit: Getty

Why purchase the land?

Ihumātao is an area of historical significance for Māori near Auckland Airport, where activists have been protesting against Fletcher's plans to build almost 500 homes on land it purchased, that was confiscated in 1863 by the Crown.

Protesters from the Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) movement said the land should be returned to Māori, and occupation of the land ramped up in July 2019 after police served occupiers with an eviction notice. 

The Prime Minister negotiated a temporary halt to construction at the site in July 2019 while a solution was sought. But more than a year passed and nothing had been announced, despite speculation throughout the year that a deal was near. 

Speculation grew earlier this week that a deal was imminent but the Prime Minister would not confirm if it had gone to Cabinet. 

But Ardern acknowledged Kiingi Tūheitia's role and admitted she had relied "heavily" on his advice on how to settle the land dispute.   

"I have taken the advice of the king around when it would be most appropriate in terms of a visit and I'll continue to do that so I have no set date. My focus actually rather than a visit has been resolution and I do think that's been the priority."

National leader Judith Collins.
National leader Judith Collins. Photo credit: Getty

National leader Judith Collins has criticised Ardern for getting involved in the first place. In the lead-up to the election, Collins said if she became Prime Minister, Fletcher's would be allowed to continue with its plans.  

"The Ihumātao situation is a problem of Jacinda Ardern's own making, and taxpayers should not be bailing her out," Collins said earlier this week, amid growing speculation of a deal being reached. 

ACT leader David Seymour said the deal would be Ardern's "worst decision" as Prime Minister. 

"If you own land and someone squats on it, the Prime Minister won't defend your property rights, she'll use taxpayers' money to buy the land off you," Seymour said. 

"What a terrible signal this sends agitators who decide to disregard the legally binding treaty settlement process. The Prime Minister's job is to uphold the law and none more so than private property rights."

Attempts by Labour to settle the dispute were repeatedly blocked by its former coalition partner NZ First, which was voted out of Parliament at the election. 

NZ First leader Winston Peters told supporters before the election that Labour asked his party to use its 'agree to disagree' clause in their coalition agreement over Ihumātao but the request was refused. 

"We said no to Labour. Not once. Not twice. But three times. We went to the wall over Ihumātao. Labour asked us to 'agree to disagree'. We said no. It was just too important for the country's future. For us it was a matter of deep principle."