Iwi members and a protest group have spent their first night occupying land at Wellington’s contentious seaside development Shelly Bay.
The Wellington iwi Taranaki Whānui sold a large part of the land to property developer Ian Cassels, but some iwi members calling themselves Mau Whenua believe the sale wasn’t legitimate.
Yesterday, they pitched their tents and set up camp, ahead of Cassels’ plans to push on with the development, which is set to include 350 luxury sea-view apartments.
Mau Whenua and Taranaki Whānui member, Anaru Mepham, said they had been left no other option other than to occupy.
The protesters had to be there, because they were in the dark about when Cassels will start demolition, and they don’t want to be surprised, he said.
“We’ve been forced into a situation of occupying our whenua.
“The Wellington City Council voted a week and a half ago to sell Cassels the last portion of land that was the key to that whole development.”
Mepham said they’d repeatedly asked for any decisions to be delayed until after a High Court hearing about the land, but Cassels was determined to move forward with the project.
“We are going to stay here until we get our land back.
“We have a very strong case going before the High Court, which is being heard in March, so we will be staying here until March.
“The story will be told, and the truth will be laid for all to see.”
The truth he is talking about, is whether the land, originally owned by Taranaki Whānui, should have been sold in the first place when it didn’t have enough iwi support for the move.
A report by the Māori Land Court found thousands of iwi members did not get a say in the sale of the iwi land at Shelly Bay, due to failings of the iwi membership system.
Mepham said Cassels had taken the land by “devious means”, but Mau Whenua were going to get it back.
“If I bought a stolen car, I’d end up going to jail.
“And so Cassels has bought stolen land, and yet what happens is that people keep pouring money into his pocket.”
He said people were using the housing crisis to increase their own wealth and push on with the development.
The aim is to have the land transfer reversed by the High Court, he said.
“So that Taranaki Whānui get their land back, and the the injustice that’s occurred is actually made right.”
On Friday Wellington City Councillor, Jill Day, who also holds the Māori partnership portfolio, told RNZ she voted in favour of the sale because it would allow the iwi to make the most of their Treaty Settlement investments.
She said internal disputes within the iwi should be sorted out within the iwi, and the council should not get involved.
Ian Cassels has previously said disputes about the ownership of the land should not slow the development.
“So much has been made of the land and who owns the land and it doesn’t matter,” he said.
“I mean, the land is owned currently by Port Nicholson and us. Buying land and development is practically meaningless because in the end it’s all cut up, developed and sold. The final owner of the land will be neither us nor Port Nicholson.”