Wellington City councillors have been warned by a group of local iwi that today’s vote on whether to sell and lease land at Shelly Bay is their Ihumātao moment.
Councillors are meeting to make a call on one of the most controversial land deals they’ll ever be faced with.
Four hours of public participation is scheduled before councillors are expected to enter debate at 6pm.
Councillors spoken to ahead of the vote said they couldn’t pick which way it was going to swing, describing it as “down to the wire”.
The Shelly Bay saga spans several years and is all over a proposed development to build 350 homes on land that’s considered the jewel of Wellington.
The multi-million-dollar development at Shelly Bay was originally pitched as a partnership between the Wellington Company and The Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust.
The trust’s board is made up of elected members representing Taranaki Whānui.
The iwi purchased land at Shelly Bay with more than half of its Treaty of Waitangi settlement money.
This has now been sold on to developer Ian Cassels, the majority done so at a fraction of the cost.
A group within Taranaki Whānui, called Mau Whenua, has lodged court action over the sale, alleging the deal failed to get the necessary support from 75 per cent of iwi members to go ahead. A court hearing is set down for March next year.
Speaking at the meeting today, Mau Whenua representative Hirini Jenkins Mepham said the council did not question whether it had the right to set up Shelly Bay as a special housing area to begin with.
“By failing to carry out due diligence in the first instance, and failing to act when owners did not approve the sale of our land, you breached the Treaty of Waitangi Article Two and alienated Māori from their land.”
He asked councillors to respect the legal process underway and defer their decision until the court has ruled on current litigation.
Dr Catherine Love, who was involved in the original treaty settlement negotiation, said there was “absolutely no way” the original PNBST trustees would sell land at Shelly Bay.
She said they wanted to enter into an arrangement with a development partner where iwi retained the land.
Love said they tried to get the Shelly Bay land as cultural redress, which the Crown did not agree to so they paid for it out of their settlement money.
“A sale was not on the cards.”
She ended Mau Whenua’s submission with a stark warning to councillors.
“You face today your Ihumātao moment. Please think wisely, use today to put an end to the conflict that has been, and the risk of further conflict.”
Developers hit back
But Earl Hope Pearson, who submitted on behalf of the developer, said they made no apologies nor did they need to explain themselves for the deals made over Shelly Bay.
He said the development was about helping iwi to achieve its vision.
Hope Pearson said the benefits included jobs, investment, housing, a new way of thinking, the retention of heritage, and a development which will enhance Taranaki Whānui.
He said the development has been “subjected to a barrage of misinformation, court cases, and other antics.”
“A deal is a deal.A no today does not negate council’s responsibility at Shelly Bay Taikuru. We’re not stopping.”
But a lawyer acting on behalf of Sir Peter Jackson and Dame Fran Walsh said there was no deal.
Jackson lives nearby and has been a vocal opponent of the development once describing it as one that “will invoke blocks of Soviet-era apartments dumped on Wellington’s picturesque peninsula.”
Lawyer Craig Stevens argued no binding legal agreement has been entered into between the council and the Wellington Company.
“The council has wisely decided to avoid such obligations at this stage.
“Councillors are being taken blindfolded to a pool and told to dive in, but not told how deep the water is, or even if there is any water in the pool.”
Councillor lodges formal complaint about mayor’s behaviour
Before proceedings got going today, councillor Jenny Condie complained to the council’s chief executive about the behaviour of Mayor Andy Foster leading up to the vote.
Condie sought leave from the meeting to make a personal statement on the matter.
Foster declined to accept that so it went to a vote, which Condie lost.
However, a document outlining the complaint to Chief Executive Barbara McKerrow was allowed to be tabled.
In that document, Condie said she received a text message this morning from the mayor asking her to drop by his office.
According to Condie, at the meeting Foster said he wanted to show her information he had relating to the road leading to Shelly Bay which might change her views.
Condie said when she read the notes they contained potentially defamatory allegations about a former council officer.
“These allegations are similar to those which were heard by the High Court in 2018 and dismissed.I believe it is extremely unwise for the Mayor to attempt to unfairly besmirch the professional integrity and probity of a former Council officer”, she said in her complaint.
Condie said nothing in the notes gave her cause for concern about the actions of the council officer and she understood Foster did not have permission to share the information in the first place.
“The actions of Mayor Foster were improper in my view and I am taking this opportunity to request that you investigate his actions. I believe that I am not the only councillor that Mayor Foster has shown this information to.”
Wellington City Council negotiates itself a loophole over land deal
A resource consent for the proposed development actually already banks on having the council-owned land.
This is because councillors have voted once before on what to do with their land back in 2017.
They voted in favour of the sale and lease, giving the council’s chief executive power to sign off the final deal.
But that power was redirected back to council due to high public interest in the case and subsequent court action.
With Mau Whenua’s case yet to be heard by the courts, but a resource consent for development granted more than a year ago, Wellington City Council has negotiated a loophole for itself.
Officers have ensured the key commercial terms nutted out ahead of the vote to sell and lease council land will protect the city council’s position going forward.
If Mau Whenua’s claim is successful, or any other litigation relating to the acquisition of land by the developer for that matter, the council can get the land back.
If its land has already been sold and leased before any substantive development being done on it, then the council can require the developer to return the land at the same value it was initially paid for.
If substantive development has already occurred, but before practical completion of the development set out in the resource consent, the council can require the developer to return the land and its improvements at the then market value.
In the event council votes against the sale and lease, the developer could apply for a variation of the current resource consent allowing development to proceed on the privately owned land only.
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