Four expressway alternatives could avoid contested Grace land

KAY BLUNDELL
Last updated 05:00 10/04/2014

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The New Zealand Transport Agency is believed to be working on four alternative Kapiti Expressway routes north of the Waikanae River to avoid writer Patricia Grace's ancestral land.

The Environment Court has ruled that the proposed taking of Grace's 5770 square metre parcel of land could not be supported as being "fair, sound and reasonably necessary . . . and should not proceed any further".

It also said it did not believe the cost of any alternative route would be "anything remotely near" the $16 million figure being touted by the Crown.

In their decision, Environment Court judge Craig Thompson and commissioners Kevin Prime and David Kernohan challenged the figure, saying: "The same rather sensationalised figure was mentioned in closing submissions, although it was clear by then that the expenditure of that figure, or anything remotely near it, is simply not required.

"Any additional construction cost incurred will be partly, if not wholly, offset by not having to pay compensation for the Grace land."

During the hearing, Grace's lawyer Leo Watson tabled a memo from December 2013, which showed NZTA had drawn up four other options, all avoiding Grace's land. One was costed at $4.6m, another at $2.3m, and two were not priced.

NZTA project manager Andrew Quinn told the court the four options were at an early stage and would be investigated further.

Yesterday NZTA said it would not comment on alternative options, saying it was still considering the court's decision, and "the matter is still being worked on".

Last month the Maori Land Court upheld Grace's application for her land - passed down to her from her great-great-grandfather Wiremu Parata Te Kakakura - to become a Maori reservation. NZTA has lodged an appeal with the court.

On Waitangi Day more than 30 writers, academics and Maori leaders signed an open letter to Prime Minister John Key and Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee, urging the Government not "to literally bulldoze a road through the land", which was of "major historical significance".

Yesterday Wellington writer Dame Fiona Kidman welcomed the Environment Court decision.

"It is quite clear from the judgment that [alternative] options are far less than the $16m figure that people [the Crown] are throwing around. To deviate away from that land is not as big a deal as they are making out.

"I am delighted for Patricia. She has taken responsibility for that land for all her family and descendants, she does not have a pecuniary interest in it at all.

"What she has done has been very brave."

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Fellow author Witi Ihimaera said two courts had now affirmed the validity of Grace's arguments.

"We are thrilled and delighted the courts have recognised her case and the historical significance of that land. This case is an inspiration to other affected people to maintain their fight for their properties."

- The Dominion Post

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