Police move in, and development begins at Ihumātao

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Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL), the activist group fighting to protect the Ihumātao Peninsula from a major housing development, is calling all of its supporters to help occupy the sacred site as over 100 police, Māori wardens, and kaumātua and kuia move in to ‘open’ the land for development.

In dramatic scenes on Wednesday more than a dozen of the old people from Te Kawerau ā Maki, Te Ākitai Waiohua, and Waikato-Tainui made their way to the “kaitiaki village”, SOUL’s stronghold on the peninsula, ordering the activists and land protectors to leave.

The old people made the order with backing from the Māori wardens and – significantly - a public endorsement from Kīngi Tūheitia.

That backing comes as Fletcher Building commits to returning 25 percent of its land at Ihumātao (approximately eight hectares) to the Kīngitanga.

“Kiingi Tūheitia supports the Ōruarangi development, especially the opportunity to develop a pathway to home ownership to help whānau into homes,” a spokesperson wrote.

The Kīngitanga’s backing is a major blow for SOUL as Fletcher Building attempts to rally some of the most important Māori institutions to its side, including some Members of Parliament.

In an email briefing yesterday to Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum Steve Evans, Fletcher Building’s Chief Executive for Residential and Development, made it clear the development had the King’s support.

He also wrote 40 of the 480 new homes at Ihumātao will be set aside for whānau who whakapapa to the area.

This is one of the primary reasons local leaders like Te Warena Taua, the chair of the Te Kawerau ā Maki Tribal Authority and the person who negotiated the concessions from Fletcher Building, supports the development.

In a statement in March Taua said “plans for the site have been developed in partnership with mana whenua in such a way that supports their sustainable kaitiakitanga of the surrounding area”.

“The protest group SOUL does not represent mana whenua of Ihumātao,” he added.

But SOUL disagrees and is marshalling its own supporters to help picket Ihumātao Quarry Road. Groups helping SOUL marshal supporters include Auckland-based trade unions, ActionStation, the Young Greens, and others.

As at 9am this morning, the designated meet time for the land protectors and their supporters, there were approximately 100 activists at the police line.  

“We are here in the peaceful tradition of Parihaka,” Pania Newton, one of the SOUL leaders, told supporters as they gathered on Wednesday night.

“Currently police have blocked Ihumātao Quarry Road, the main public access to the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve. The Kaitiaki Village remains cordoned off.”

“The six mana whenua co-founders of SOUL say 'enough is enough' and that it is now time to stop the desecration of this waahi tapu. [We] stand in solidarity with Mauna Kea and all indigenous peoples whose sacred places are being disrespected and are at risk of being lost forever.”

Several leaders including academic Dr. Mera Penehira are drawing comparisons with Mauna Kea, pointing out Ihumātao and the land in question is the oldest site of human habitation in Auckland.

It is also one of the few pre-European built environments still standing.

But there are few formal means left to stop the development going ahead and preserve that built environment (and the below ground environment, including koiwi).

In August 2017 the Waitangi Tribunal said no to SOUL’s application for an urgent hearing with the presiding members agreeing the developers were taking steps to avoid damage to taonga. In November 2018 the Environment Court ruled the development could safely co-exist with the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historical Reserve and that the developer’s management plan went above what is legally required for the protection of taonga.

The land is also unavailable for a Treaty settlement (the relevant iwi have already settled) and a claim in the Māori Land Court was unsuccessful for lack of “standing”.

That leaves the land protectors with one short term option – blocking the access road to help hold up construction – and purchasing the land or disestablishing its status as a Special Housing Area. Earlier this year former Housing Minister Phil Twyford told māui street the latter option is not favoured.

Purchasing the land remains the best option for SOUL and its supporters. In February this year Fletcher Building said it would consider “serious” offers to purchase the land.

In the 1990s the Ōtuataua Stonefields were also purchased from private hands and designated a historic reserve.

In presenting its petition against the development to the Māori Affairs Select Committee SOUL told the committee members the development land could be added to the Stonefields Reserve with the Crown, Council, or other funders contributing to the purchase cost.

Neither the Crown nor Council have indicated whether they will consider or commit to that possibility.

In the meantime the land protectors will remain on site.

“SOUL is calling on the Prime Minister, the Government and Auckland Council to urgently intervene to stop this crisis from escalating further. It should never have got to this point,” said Newton.



  • 1200AD: approximate settlement date.

  • 1200-1864: the gardens at Ihumātao attract competing kin groups with several different iwi and hapū occupying the land at one time or another including Ngāti Whatua and Waiohua groups with strong whakapapa to Waikato-Tainui (Te Ahiwaru, Te Akitai Waiohua, Ngāti Tai Tāmaki, Ngāti Te Ata, Ngāti Tamaoho, and Te Kawerau ā Maki).  

  • 1865: The Crown confiscates the land under the New Zealand Settlement Act 1863. Particular reference to the raupatu at Ihumātao is made in the Ngāti Tamaoho Claims Settlement Act 2017, Te Kawerau ā Maki Claims Settlement Act 2015, and the Waikato Raupatu Claims Settlement Act 1995.

  • 1869: the land is sold into private ownership.

  • 1990s: the former Manukau City Council, Auckland Regional Authority, and Department of Conservation enter negotaitions to designate the land a historic reserve. The three authorities pay $4.7m to four families to purchase the land and create the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve.

  • 2007: the Manukau City Council, intending to extend the reserve at some point, designates the land currently in dispute as open space to protect it against development. The land owners’ appeal that designation to the Environment Court with the judge ruling in their favour.

  • 2013: the Auckland Council designates the land “future urban” in the Auckland Unitary Plan. The land is also designated a Special Housing Area under the Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Act 2013.

  • 2016: Fletcher Building completes its purchase of the land. Occupation by SOUL begins.

See also: The politics of Ihumātao