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Ed Sheeran

Ihumaatao SOUL hikoi to parliament
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Ihumaatao SOUL hikoi to parliament

Following a hugely successful Reclamation Festival at Ihumaatao on the weekend, supporters of the Auckland-based Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) Campaign will march through the streets of Wellington on 12 March, from Te Wharewaka (near our national museum Te Papa) to Parliament, to protest its planned development. SOUL have been fighting to protect this precious cultural heritage landscape at Ihumaatao, near Auckland International Airport, for nearly four years now.

Organised by SOUL Solidarity Pōneke, this Hikoi draws attention to an Action Station petition with more than 16,000 signatures asking the Government and Auckland Council to intervene to protect this land for future generations.


“We will be sending a strong message to the Government and Auckland Council that people in other parts of the country have joined the fight to prevent the destruction of the whenua at Ihumaatao,” says Te Ao Pritchard, hikoi organiser. “This land was stolen and should be returned to mana whenua.”


Following Crown confiscation in 1863, the disputed land was ‘granted’ to settlers who farmed it until their descendants sold it to transnational corporation Fletcher Building Limited in 2016 for $20 million. The company plans to build a housing estate on the 32-hectare block, which was inappropriately designated as a special housing area (SHA62).


But mana whenua, archaeologists and heritage experts say this land is part of a rare cultural heritage landscape. Archaeologist Dave Veart describes the land now known as SHA62 as “the paddock next to our Stonehenge”, referring to the adjoining Ōtuataua Historic Stonefields Reserve.


SOUL co-founder and spokesperson Pania Newton says, “We’ve been fighting the development for four years and the situation is now extremely urgent. There is no legal or Crown impediment stopping Fletcher from building 480 houses on whenua we consider wāhi tapu.”


Mana whenua support has not been unanimous: One iwi, Te Kawerau ā Maki, which previously tried to stop the rezoning of the land from rural to future urban, has been working with the developer to mitigate the worst impacts of the development. But it needs to be made clear that mitigation does not equal approval or agreement to the development.


The six co-founders of SOUL are mana whenua. They stand with the support of their whānau and kāinga, from kaumatua and kuia, to pakeke and tamariki, many of whom have felt excluded. Large numbers of mana whenua have signed SOUL’s petition to stop the development.


On Auckland’s North Shore, strong community pressure has stopped another high cost housing development bordering a marine reserve and the popular Long Bay Regional Park. Todd Property Group just announced its withdrawal of a High Court appeal that sought major development of Okura.


SOUL co-founder and spokesperson Qiane Matata-Sipu says, “The Housing Projects Office knew knew mana whenua didn’t want the land designated an SHA but still pushed it through Council to reach their own housing targets, omitting the information that outlined the strong mana whenua opposition in their documents to Councillors. Fletcher knew there was controversy attached to Ihumaatao when it bought the land. I stood in front of their Chairman and CEO myself and reiterated the issues here on the whenua. It’s time for the Government and the Council to take responsibility, and for the company to do the conscious thing and withdraw, the same way Todd pulled out of its inappropriate development at Okura.”


Wai o te Rangimarie Rakena, SOUL co-founder and spokesperson adds: “New Zealanders will not stand by and watch the destruction of our precious landscapes. These places define who we are as a Nation. For Maori, these places also define who we are as a people, our whakapapa, and our health and well-being.”


SOUL members have maintained a peaceful presence on the land for more than two years, despite unsuccessful attempts by the company to evict them. In early March more than two thousand people enjoyed a day-long music festival on the whenua to show their support for the Campaign.


But the threat of confrontation on the land is escalating. The company has said it plans to begin works any day. It also knows that images of confrontation will spread like wildfire on social media. In a recent New Zealand Herald article CEO Steve Evans was reported to have said that the company is “open to offers”.


The petition to Parliament, carried by supporters on the Hikoi, is a concerted effort to stop the development and prevent confrontation on the land. But the struggle continues and this action wont be the last act of moral and political protest.


The Government and Auckland Council must step in and take action to protect and preserve one of our nation’s most precious cultural heritage landscapes.


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