Plans to redevelop a Tauranga reserve that houses a golf course and racecourse could be scuppered after a claim was lodged via the Treaty of Waitangi Act.
The claim, made by representatives of Ngāi Tamarāwaho hapū, was lodged at the end of last week in a bid to halt plans to build on the city’s Racecourse Reserve.
Tauranga City Council put seven draft proposals for the 85-hectare site out for public consultation in December last year, including options that featured housing, health services and a new school, as well as further enhancements to existing green space.
With the window for public feedback on the proposals now closed, a decision on the site’s future is due from council commissioners in April.
It’s currently home to the city’s racecourse and a golf course, as well as numerous equestrian facilities, and council, in partnership with Kāinga Ora, announced that the future of the Crown-owned land was under review in October last year.
The validity of those plans were immediately called into question by Ngāi Tamarāwaho, and hapū representative Buddy Mikaere warned council that a claim would be made if it became apparent that the reserve’s status was under threat.
Waste of resources
“We haven’t had any response from Tauranga City Council since we made the claim, but we told them we would do this months ago,” Buddy said.
“We told them that if the Government are going to change the status of that land and remove it from community use, then we wanted to have a chat with them about ownership.
“They can’t change the status of the reserve without some kind of government involvement, so I don’t know how it’s got this far down the track. It feels like a tremendous waste of resources. What’s the point?”
Of the seven options put forward by council, the first two have received Ngāi Tamarāwaho’s approval – namely to maintain the status quo and leave the land as it is, or to enhance community activity combined with racecourse, golf course and equestrian use.
“If they leave it as a recreational reserve, we’re perfectly happy,” Buddy added. “This all comes down to the use of the land. Anything more than the first two options would mean the reserve status would be removed, and it becomes something else entirely. That’s what we’re opposed to.
“Before anything else happens, we want them to resolve the ownership question.”
Situated in the suburb of Greerton, the land was permanently reserved in 1879 as a recreation ground and racecourse. In the decade previous, the land was confiscated from local hapū and iwi under the New Zealand Settlements Act.
Confiscation followed the battles of Pukehinahina/Gate Pā and Te Ranga, with hapū and iwi deemed to be in rebellion. Prior to these battles, the land was known as Maarawaewae and was used for gardening purposes.
“When we lodged our Treaty claims back in the early 1990s, we didn’t go anywhere near any public reserves or land that was being used for community purposes,” says Buddy. “We didn’t see the point.
“But if it’s no longer to be a public reserve used for recreational purposes, then that takes out the original reason why we didn’t pursue it in the 90s. That’s why we want to take that up again now.
“I know other pieces of land around the city that would be perfect for affordable housing, but they haven’t been pursued. The land in question looks like it’s an easy target – I can guarantee you that if that land was made available for housing, we’d be looking at house prices between $800,000 and $1 million. That’s not going to help.”
Now that a claim has been lodged, Buddy said the tribunal will go away and study it before providing comment on its legality.
“As a former director of the Waitangi Tribunal, and given that the lawyer we’re working with is the former registrar of the Waitangi Tribunal, we’re pretty happy that the claim is legitimate,” he added.
“It could take a couple of months, but the sensible thing to do from council’s perspective would be to withdraw those proposals. It needs to be removed from their plans if it is to be used for alternative purposes.”
Tauranga City Council was approached for comment, but declined to be drawn on the claim. A spokesperson said: “Council will not be making any comments regarding the Treaty claim on this Crown-owned land.”
The racecourse club currently holds 12 race meetings per year, while an estimated 60,000 rounds of golf are played on the site annually.
The space is also used by 10 horse-training businesses and the Tauranga Equestrian Sports Association, with an events centre attracting an estimated 100,000 people a year.