Uncertain future

FUTURE UNCERTAIN: Jonathan Marshall, who owns two properties on council leases in Waitara, says it is time the leaseholders were given the opportunity to buy their land.
FUTURE UNCERTAIN: Jonathan Marshall, who owns two properties on council leases in Waitara, says it is time the leaseholders were given the opportunity to buy their land.

Te Atiawa does not want Waitara leasehold land in its Treaty settlement and has lobbed the political hot potato back into the hands of the district council.

It emerged yesterday that Te Atiawa had decided against immediately buying the 769 sections administered by the New Plymouth District Council.

However, under Government legislation currently being drawn up, the pathway remains open for the iwi to buy the land at a future date.

The council has called in its lawyers in an attempt to understand what this means for future land sales.

Mayor Andrew Judd said as he understood it, if the council tried to sell the land to anyone other than Te Atiawa a Treaty negotiator could step in at any time and stop the sale.

Leaseholders looking to go freehold may come up against more trouble than they ever have before, he said.

"It puts us in a much tighter corner," Judd said.

However, council lawyers have told the mayor leaseholders may be able to get their freehold status through Te Atiawa, which could purchase individual sections off the council.

Judd said the council was still trying to nail down exactly what this new legislation would mean.

Councillor Colin Johnston, who represents Waitara's north ward, was forthright in his opinion last night.

"The Government and ministers have shafted the community, the leaseholders and our council," he said.

"I'd like to remind them that this land is private land ownd by the council.

The issue would bring only more stress to an already stressed-out community, he said.

Jonathan Marshall, who formed the Waitara Leaseholders' Association in 2004, yesterday maintained the council now had an obligation to offer the land to the leaseholders.

"If Te Atiawa do not want this land then the people of Waitara must have the chance to decide," he said.

The land was originally confiscated by the Crown as punishment for the land wars of the 1860s and in the late 1900s ended up in the hands of the council. Ten years ago, council agreed to offer up the sites for Treaty settlements.

The Waitara Leaseholders' Association took the issue to court and in 2007 after many hearings the Supreme Court ruled council was in the right.

Last September the Government and council agreed on a provisional transfer price of $23 million. However, Te Atiawa has now elected to not take ownership of the land through its Treaty settlement, although the deed has left open the option for iwi to purchase the land at a later date.

The Crown has not yet formally requested council to terminate the sale and purchase agreement but it is expected to do so.

Former councillor Sherril George said she had always been against the council decision to landbank the properties and had believed it was an arrangement destined to fail.

"But no-one on that council gave a shit about Waitara, or what I had to say," she said.

"Waitara wanted to be able to freehold that land, people have been calling for that for years."

George called upon the council to face up to the problem and sell the land to the leaseholders at a fair price.

She wanted the leases to be sold for what council was prepared to accept from the Crown - not the value it used to rate the lease fees.

"Some of the leaseholders have paid for their land three or four times over now. The council has shafted Waitara for all that it can," she said.

The Waitara Endowment Land is subject to statutory restrictions under the Waitara Harbour Act 1940 and the Waitara Borough Reserves Vesting Act 1909.

These restrictions govern how money from rents, leases or any sale can be spent and make it difficult for council to spend any of that outside of Waitara.

If council sells any of the land to Te Atiawa the restrictions will be be lifted and the proceeds from the sale will be able to be spent across the district. But if council sells the land to anyone else the restrictions will not be removed.

Judd has signalled that if council was to jump through the seemingly endless hoops to sell the land to the leaseholders it would put a Local Bill to Parliament.

The Bill would aim to lift the restrictions so the money from the sale of the land could be spent across the New Plymouth District.

"We would hope that the Government would support such a Bill," Judd said.

Marshall slated Judd's view on the matter and said he had not lived up to his campaign promise to help leaseholders get their land.

"This stinks of the process of taking away from Waitara whatever they can. Councillors have failed to acknowledge the hope of Waitara, and this is another example. They are raping us."

While the situation had been less than ideal for decades Waitara had been protected by the statutory regulations, he said. It meant the money was reinvested into a town that was struggling, he said.

Judd said council wanted the restrictions lifted as the land was privately owned by council, not the Crown.

"We are keen to have these statutory restrictions removed so that rental income, or indeed sale proceeds, can be used for the wider benefit of Waitara," he said.

"At present we are largely restricted to using rental income for the prevention of erosion at the Waitara River."

The long-term future of the land remained in doubt, he said, but there would be no immediate change as council would continue to administer the leases.

Council will discuss all of these matters on June 17.

Taranaki Daily News