Nick Smith’s handling of Auckland’s housing crisis had added pressure applied today. Ngati Whatua and Tainui have announced they will be seeking a declaration from the High Court in an attempt to clarify the nature of their right of first refusal of Crown land for housing purposes.
Smith has not handled things well lately. First there was the release of the invitation to private investors before any budget announcement had been made which meant that pre budget some messy repair work had to be conducted. Note Smith’s claim made at the time that 500 hectares of Crown-owned land in Auckland owned by various agencies has been zoned residential.
Then there was the discovery that some of the land was adjacent to a large power substation, and other proposed land included a cemetery, a fire station, and school playing fields.
In an attempt to assuage an increasing incredulous media Smith took them on a magical mystery tour by bus to show them some of the land under consideration. The claimed 500 hectares of land had shrunk to 30 hectares.
The level of incredulity again increased when it was discovered that one of the sites visited included land owned by Auckland Council, not by the Crown.
The basic problem is that the settlement deed signed by the Crown and Iwi stated that if the Crown intends to develop land for social housing and involves a party other than the Crown (including a private buyer) in that development then the Iwi has the first right to be that developer. And you cannot reconcile this right with the original proposal for “an open contestable process to identify a shortlist of suitably qualified parties or consortia with the capability and capacity to deliver housing developments at pace in Auckland”.
There is the power for the Crown to dispose of land if the Minister (Smith) believes that the disposal will achieve or assist in achieving the Crown’s social objectives in relation to housing. But the parties are meant to act in good faith.
Geddis summaries the issue in this way:
So it isn’t the case that under this Protocol the Crown must in every case give the iwi and hapū’s limited partnership the first chance to be the developers of housing on Crown land in Auckland. But, by the same token, can the Government possibly be acting in “good faith” by making a sweeping decision that the iwi and hapū’s limited partnership is not to have first dibs on any of the 500 hectares of Crown land that is allegedly being made available for new housing? Without, it should be noted, apparently even informing the iwi and hapū’s limited partnership that it is intending embark on this new policy?
Ngati Whatua and Tainui have been very respectful in the way they have handled this issue, in a manner that Smith should try and emulate. From the Herald:
A statement issued today in the name of Ngarimu Blair for Ngati Whatua and Tukoroirangi Morgan for Waikato-Tainui said they were 100 per cent behind the Government’s goal to ensure more safe, warm, attractive and affordable homes are built in the Auckland region “as soon as possible”.
But an issue had arisen over the right of first refusal when land was to be used for private housing developments.
They said they had learned from differences of opinion over the interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi that it was “much better to resolve differences of opinion early as we look forward through the 21st and 22nd centuries”.
And Smith was interviewed this morning on Morning Report. He avoided obvious difficulties by answering different questions to those asked and by talking at length.
The offer by Ngati Whatua and by Waikato-Tainui to the Crown to seek a joint declaration from the High Court is an elegant way to avoid a direct confrontation and to resolve what potentially is a very damaging issue for Iwi Crown relations. Surely the Crown will jump at the offer.
You would think that by now Smith and Co would have learned not to stretch to breaking point arcane language in a statute so that it can avoid direct Iwi involvement in an issue of considerable concern to Aucklanders. And you have to wonder at what was discussed at yesterday’s meeting between Smith and Iwi representatives and why he gauged their response so badly.