point england development

Point England: An almighty mess in the making

A special joint blog from Marama Davidson, Green Party social housing spokesperson and Eugenie Sage, Green Party environment spokesperson.

A Treaty settlement, environmental planning, affordable housing, threatened native species and recreation spaces are all in play in Auckland’s Point England/Te Whanake, thanks to another Nick Smith special.

The National Government is pushing the Point England Development Enabling Bill through Parliament right now – but rather than fixing some of New Zealand’s problems, it’s making lots of them worse.

The Bill will take about a quarter of the Point England Reserve on the shores of the Tamaki River estuary, and rezone it for housing development, overriding the normal processes for revoking public reserve status and for planning and rezoning open space.

The intention is then to sell the land to Ngāti Pāoa, who would build new houses and a new marae on their traditional papakaingā land (ancestral homeland). But there’s nothing in the Bill that actually guarantees that will happen.

How have we got here, and what is the Green Party’s position?

Proposed housing development at Point England, Auckland
Need for housing

With the pressure for housing growing ever greater, Government is sensibly looking at options for how to increase land supply in Auckland – but they’ve been doing this in their usual piecemeal way.

As part of this work, Nick Smith started looking to remove protections from the Point England reserve, a distinctive area of coastal reserve and green space beside the Tamaki River. The reserve has been a public reserve for around 60 years. Generations have played sport and picnicked, walked and enjoyed its spectacular views, and easy access to the coast.

This is all happening in a part of Auckland that is growing rapidly and has been turned upside down by the Housing NZ-Tamaki Redevelopment Company’s so-called “revitalisation” of the local state house areas in Glen Innes, Panmure, and Point England.  This has seen many families evicted and their homes demolished to make way for new million dollar houses.

But they forgot a settlement process

And of course National was doing this is isolation from other work – most particularly the process of settling a Treaty of Waitangi claim with Ngāti Pāoa.

Ngāti Pāoa originally wanted this and other ancestral land returned as cultural redress, rather than having to buy it. This included land which is owned by the Tāmaki Redevelopment Company (TRC is half owned by the government and half by Auckland Council), but that was not on the table.

So when Ngāti Pāoa discovered that some of their ancestral land at Te Whanake/Point England was being considered for development, land that was alienated through the effects of colonisation, they suggested to the Crown that they could build new houses and build a marae on the land, rather than the land being sold to a private developer, who would not need to show any extra regard for the community or the environment.

Ngāti Pāoa’s mana motuhake

We have a deep level of respect for what Ngāti Pāoa are trying to achieve. We wholeheartedly support their aspirations to regain ownership and re-settle their traditional papakaingā land, to support their people struggling with the housing crisis, and to restore their connections with the environment, the community and each other as mana whenua.

Their plans to build a marae and improve access and amenities will not only benefit their people, but the whole Point England community. The remaining 72% of the reserve will stay in public ownership alongside the new subdivision of at least 300 houses.

We recognise that Ngāti Pāoa are central to the Point England community and that they want to achieve their desired outcomes while bringing the rest of the community with them.

Kaitiakitanga, or environmental guardianship, is fundamental to Māori identity and is a core cultural imperative for all hapū and iwi, including Ngāti Pāoa. Ngāti Pāoa have said publicly that they are committed to mitigating the housing development’s impacts on the environment including on the areas where threatened tuturiwhatu/Northern New Zealand dotterel roost and nest.

We uphold the mana and rights of Ngāti Pāoa to exercise the mana motuhake of their lands and resources.

And National didn’t think about the environment

Further complicating matters, the land is a nesting site for endangered tuturiwhatu/dotterel. Local conservationists are concerned about the impact of housing development on the nesting sites and the increased predation pressure from household cats. There is nothing in the Bill that guarantees any protection for the dotterel or even any kind of mitigation against the effects of housing development and the permanent loss of valuable green space on the coast.

Map of proposed development showing nesting sites. Image Credit: Shaun Lee

And the Nats see our conservation and planning laws as an impediment – and no problem with losing green spaces

The Bill overrides the normal public consultation processes in the Reserves Act to remove reserve status. And it sidesteps the usual private plan change process in the RMA to rezone land open space for housing and residential development. We doubt the need for such urgency here and we oppose the failure to consult and engage with the local community.

Because of course the local community wasn’t consulted before the Bill was introduced. So their views weren’t heard or taken seriously. Well, it’s National and Nick Smith – what would you expect?

The Green Party position

The process so far has been terrible, so it’s no surprise the Bill is terrible. We absolutely support the intent to return land to Ngāti Pāoa – but the current bill doesn’t guarantee that. And it cuts across many important protections for the environment.

Given its abysmal state, the Green Party currently can’t vote for the Bill – but neither will we vote against it. Instead, we are seeking significant improvements on the Bill through a series of amendments.

We have discussed the issues with local representatives, Ngāti Pāoa, and conservationists. We have heard many sides to the story. We have engaged with the National Government members on the select committee and urged them to work with us to fix the problems with the Bill.

The issues go to the heart of our values and principles as the Green Party, which are laid out in the party’s charter.

Under our overarching commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, we recognise and support Ngāti Pāoa’s right to regain ownership of their papakaingā land. This Bill will help achieve that, even if it does so through an irregular and imperfect process.

Under the principle of social responsibility, we must recognise the severity of the housing crisis in Auckland and that any new homes built by Ngāti Pāoa could be part of the solution to that. The Government says it wants to see affordable homes built here, but there’s nothing in the Bill that guarantees affordability.

Under the principle of ecological wisdom, we are bound to uphold the value of green space and public reserves in our communities and to protect the endangered dotterel/tuturiwhatu who nest there. We have heard that Ngāti Pāoa would seek to protect the birds from the effects of development as well as, and maybe better than, anyone else.

Green Party environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage meets with members of the Point England community. Image credit: Shaun Lee

Under the principle of appropriate decision-making, it is unacceptable that the Bill gets around the normal processes for revoking reserve status and rezoning land for housing, set out in the Reserves Act and the Resource Management Act respectively. It is not a normal Treaty settlement bill, and therefore not a part of the normal accepted process for settlements, even if it does informally form part of a current Treaty settlement negotiation between the Crown and Ngāti Pāoa.

It goes against the wishes of many people in the local community, who would not have the right to challenge or judicially review the outcome of the change in reserve status. The Maungakiekie-Tamaki local board and Auckland Council are opposed because it overrides their democratic decision-making processes. This directly conflicts with our principle of appropriate decision making.

You can see how complex this is for us. Some of our core principles say we should support the Bill while others say we should oppose it.

We’re going to continue working with people involved to try and find a path to a better solution.

In the meantime, the irresponsible National Government will continue to drive a bulldozer through communities like the people of Point England and Ngāti Pāoa.

And maybe we need a new name for any legislation that Nick Smith is involved with.