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Frank Newman

Papakainga Housing

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The Whangarei District Council (WDC) is going to make it easier for some landowners to develop their land.

The Papakainga Plan Change (94B) has been released for public consultation. According to the WDC, “The purpose of PC94B is to provide opportunities for Māori land owners to develop and live on their ancestral land and to develop guidelines and standards for the papakāinga development plan process.”

The council’s planning committee chairman, Greg Innes, is reported to have described the plan as “on a leading edge”.  The plan change is significant because there are 868 parcels of Maori land in the Whangarei district, representing about 5% of the land area, much of it on the coast. There are some very large blocks but many small lots (the median size is 1.56 hectares). Based on current rules housing would most likely be limited to one dwelling per parcel.

The key points are:

  • The underlying planning (zoning) rules for the land will not apply to Papakainga land.
  • Housing on Maori freehold land would become a permitted activity. No resource consent would be required and the normal district plan provisions would not apply. Multiple housing units could be built on the land, without any control on the effects.
  • The plan change permits commercial and industrial activities if the gross floor area of the activity is less than 500m2.
  • Housing developments on general land owned by Maori “where an ancestral link has been identified” will be discretionary activity, that is, permitted at the discretion of the local council. Presumably that link could be as recent as parents wanting to provide housing for all of their mokopuna.
  • In cases where a resource consent is required, applicants may request their application be heard by a commissioner with “expertise and qualifications in tikanga and Mātauranga Māori and resource management”. The Section 32 analysis behind the policy states that the consenting powers are likely to be delegated to iwi which would give it absolute discretion to process and approve consents on Papakainga land.

Potentially this may have significant effects on landowners adjoining Maori land. Under this arrangement they would have no say at all when it comes to the intensity of housing next door. Conceivably any number of dwellings could be built creating what in effect would be a camping ground on their doorstep.

In other words, housing and industrial and commercial activities would in most cases be permitted, and where council consent is required Maori could have their own nominee appointed to hear the matter. How independent is that?

Leaving aside the issue of racial equality, adverse environmental effects are adverse effects regardless of the race of the person that causes them. To regulate the environmental effects of one community group and not another is simply unacceptable. The underlying environment provisions in the District Plan should apply to all developments and all people equally, including papakāinga developments and Maori.

Allowing an outright exemption from the underlying environment provisions would conceivably permit intensive housing and commercial and industrial activities in areas like the coast that are considered so sensitive that others are preventing from development.

Furthermore, adjoining landowners may find their amenity values adversely affected but they would be denied any opportunity to be treated as an affected party. Not only would they have no opportunity to have a say on the intensity of housing, but nor would they have any right to object to any commercial or industrial activity for that matter.

There appears nothing stopping Maori land owners from licensing a third-party business to operate from their papakāinga land, in return for an annual rental or share of the revenue. The attraction to the business is that they would not need to go through the expense and uncertainty of obtaining a resource consent.  Maori could in effect use their land use privilege to clip the ticket on someone else’s industrial activity.

There is also the issue of development on the coast, where much of the Maori land is. Even modest development – like building a house! – is something that is highly restricted at present with groups like the Environmental Defence Society and the Department of Conservation taking the view that there should be greater restrictions placed on coastal development, not fewer. It remains to be seen whether these groups take the same view when the developers are Maori. They have yet to raise a voice in protest; I suspect they will remain silent.

There is no doubt there are issues regarding housing on ancestral land that need to be addressed. But the issues with papakāinga housing are the very same issues that arise in the wider community when a family has a close attachment to land (for example, land settled by ancestors or land that may be intended as a legacy property in the future).

There is a rude irony about this and the reality that non-Maori have to ask Maori for consent when developing their land, but Maori do not have to ask non-Maori.

The papakāinga provisions should apply to all properties, or they should not apply at all.  One’s connection to land and environmental effects are, after all, not defined by race. Many of us more recent immigrants also have an ancestral connection with our land, or would like to create a legacy property for future generations. Why can’t they have the same rights as Maori? Why can’t they too build second or multiple dwellings on their property to house relatives, or operate a business activity from their backyard?

For details on how to make a submission, go to the WDC website HERE – the closing date is 31 May 2016 at 4pm.