Māori Housing Minister Peeni Henare brushes off lack of progress on Ihumātao

Māori Housing Minister Peeni Henare is unapologetic that little progress has been made on getting houses built at Ihumātao - whenua the Government purchased eight months ago. 

The disputed south Auckland land was purchased from Fletcher Building in December for $30 million, in a Memorandum of Understanding between the Crown, Kīngitanga and Auckland Council.  

Housing Minister Megan Woods said in December all parties had committed to there being housing on the site. She said the land could be used for papakāinga housing, housing for mana whenua and some public housing. 

But eight months on, Henare confirmed under questions from ACT deputy leader Brooke van Velden in Parliament that a steering committee, which is supposed to lead the project, still has not been formed. 

"We make no apology for taking the time to get this right... Treaty of Waitangi, over 180 years it's taken a long time to come to where we are now," Henare said. 

"If that member is referring directly to the land at Ihumātao, I can reassure that member that I've met with the Kīngitanga, I have met with those out at Ihumātao, and I have also met with the council in the time that I've been responsible for Māori housing."

Henare confirmed the land is still intended to be used for housing, but couldn't say when the steering committee will be formed. 

He said he had it on "good authority" from Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson that it will be established "in the very near future", and that an announcement is coming. 

Van Velden asked Henare if he knew of any other private developers that have spent $30 million and produced no plans for housing. 

"No," Henare replied. 

"How little progress has been made is beyond a joke," van Velden later said. "This Government has proven time and again it's hopeless when it comes to housing."

The Government's Ihumātao deal has often come under scrutiny - particularly due to the method by which the land was purchased. 

It was bought using the Land for Housing Programme, which falls under the KiwiBuild umbrella.

The Auditor-General investigated the deal and found that the Government ended up having to create a special spending appropriation in February because the purchase did not fit within existing housing policy. 

Newshub revealed the Government was advised by Treasury not to use the Land for Housing programme. The Government proceeded to set up a new Housing and Urban Development fund specifically to purchase the land. 

But because the Government did not get Parliament's approval to create the new spending category, which is required to spend public money, the Auditor-General said the Ihumātao purchase was "unlawful". 

The Auditor-General required the Government to take a number of steps to remedy the unlawfulness of the purchase.

Woods said at the time the Government made a technical error when purchasing the land.

"This is something that will need to be tidied up, but this is not uncommon," she told Newshub. "It's certainly not the way we aim to operate, but this is a technical error."