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Ihumātao protest: Former landowner the Wallace family speaks out against stand-off

Ihumātao protest: Former landowner the Wallace family speaks out against stand-off

Ihumātao’s former owner has spoken out against a bitter stand-off happening on the land. 

Descendants of Gavin Wallace, granted the land in the 1860s after it was confiscated from Māori in the Waikato Invasion, have so far kept quiet as occupiers try to stop Fletcher Building from breaking ground on a housing development. 

Contacted by Stuff, Wallace’s great grandson, who’s also a director of the company that sold the land to Fletcher Building, said he hoped the development would go ahead. 

The 58-year-old man, who did not want to be named, wouldn’t comment on the amount Fletcher paid for the land because he signed a non-disclosure agreement. 

READ MORE:
* Ihumātao: These are the possible solutions for bringing the stand-off to an end
* My visit to Ihumātao as an urban Māori millennial
* Ihumātao: Here’s what Fletcher Building’s 480 home development would look like

However, property records showed Fletcher bought the land for $19 million in March 2014, when the rateable value was $11.5 million. The land was transferred to Fletcher Residential Ltd in December 2016 with a new title.

Asked if the figure had been enough to set up the family for the future, the man said: “I can’t comment on that because there’s quite a few shareholders in there.”

The company that sold the land to Fletcher Building has several directors and shareholders who are Wallace family descendants. The family is now based in Northland. 

The man told Stuff the then Manukau City Council tried to buy the land in 2010 but only offered about $3 million. Auckland Council has been contacted for comment.

The land was now valued at $36 million.

Asked about the sale process, a Fletcher Building spokesperson said: “The sale was discussed directly with the Wallace family. It went through the usual process for sale and purchase, including an Overseas Investment Office (OIO) approval.

During the OIO process the land was opened to the market for other potential buyers. No one came forward and the purchase was approved, the spokesperson said.

Fletcher Building was subject to OIO rules due to the company being less than 50 per cent New Zealand-owned. 

The Wallace family member said he supported the planned 480-house development, with 40 homes available to people who belonged to the area’s whakapapa.

“[Te Kawerau a Maki kaumatua Te Warena] Taua, the head of the village, came up with an agreement, a compromise, and got a very good deal, and these other people have come out and put his decision and the housing under risk. It’d be a shame if they lost out,” he said. 

Claims by some protesters the land was a burial ground conflict with evidence Māori used it for growing vegetables, he said. 

“This [protest] group that’s got going, the information they use is what I’d call very unreliable.

“About 80 per cent of that land is ploughable and has all been ploughed and worked and cropped. Māori used to grow wheat to supply the Auckland market in that area. They wouldn’t have done that if it was a burial ground.”

But there were burial caves on the site and the man confirmed his mother found human bones in one of the caves.

‘IT’S SACRED TO US’

Protest leader Pania Newton said the land was not a burial ground and she had never referred to it that way, but it was still considered wahi tapu. 

“The lava caves were burial sites. They’re on the contested land.”

Taua gave evidence to the Environment Court in 2012 that the land was wahi tapu in its entirety but the court disagreed because it “doesn’t know what wahi tapu is,” Newton said.

“It’s a site of significance to us. It’s sacred to us, that’s what we mean by wahi tapu. For us we see it as being so significant that we don’t want to develop it.”

Newton said her father, Peter Oti-George had ventured into the burial caves but women weren’t allowed to because they are whare tangata or child-bearing. 

She confirmed Taua was her uncle but said the iwi he represented, Te Kawerau a Maki, was not mandated to make decisions over the contested land, unlike the two local marae, Makaurau and Pukaki.

“Iwi can build their own homes; we’re already working on papakainga (Māori housing) developments within Ihumātao,” said Newton. 

“And we can actually build more than 40 homes and promise they’re at affordable prices, rather than Fletcher’s who can’t even tell us what the cost of their homes are, nor can they tell us what these 40 homes for iwi are going to look like.”

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