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NZS – Mau Whenua claim on Shelly Bay, Wellington, New Zealand

Mau Whenua, a Māori group, hold physical presence and ongoing protest at Shelly Bay, Wellington opposing a Wellington City Council decision to grant consent to Ian Cassells owned development of the land through their company, The Wellington Company.

The region’s historically known First People are several Māori hapu and Iwi through the early 1800’s. This included Ngāti Ruanui Ngāti Tama, Taranaki, and Te Ati Awa.

1820: The area was settled by a collection of peoples from multiple Māori iwi in the 1820s and 1830s.

1839: The land was bought by the New Zealand Company.

What does history say of this sale. It says this:

On 27 September in the year 1839, Te Ati Awa rangatira signed a piece of parchment that was supposed to sell the entire Wellington region to the British owned New Zealand Company. Amongst them was Wiremu Taka Ngātata.

It quickly became clear Te Ati Awa had been deceived. For Wiremu Taka Ngātata and his family had no intent to sell. What they thought they were doing was providing authority for the ship, Tory, to have rights to anchor in the harbour.

The deed’s translation was poor. It did not describe the area, or even a map. It was so badly written, it was later deemed invalid. The problem was that by the time it was so deemed, hundreds of settlers had already arrived.

Surveying teams forced Iwi out of central Wellington as we know of it today.

From that time, Wiremu Taka Ngātata made it his life mission to help his people recover their land.

2003:  The Waitangi Tribunal ruled iwi were owed compensation.

2008: , The Crown apologised admitting that the deed was flawed and promises were never kept including one-tenth of the land to be kept for the Iwi’s own use. and lack of defined area in the original sale, took land for public purposes without compensation, locked up remaining Māori land in perpetual lease. Settlement included the right to buy several sites around Wellington including Shelly Bay. The iwi chose to do so at a cost of at least $13.3 million.

2009: Most of the land was owned by the New Zealand Defence Force for 124 years until 2009. 14 February 2009, 4.5 hectares was handed over to Taranaki Iwi (Taranaki Whānui ki te Upoko o te ika, also known as Taranaki Whānui.) This was part of a $25 million Treaty of Waitangi settlement.

2014: Ian Cassels, director of property company The Wellington Company, has been planning a $500 million development for the land since 2014 but the project has faced legal, bureaucratic, and other barriers. As far as Ian Cassels is concerned, he owns the land.

2017: Cassels has purchased land from the Taranaki Whānui iwi. A good portion of the land was owned by the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust (PNBST) and was sold for $2 million, a lot less than paid for originally. Members of Taranaki Whānui iwi voted against sale but the portion of land sold was smaller than the size which required a vote. A sub-group of Taranaki Whānui iwi, Mau Whenua, stated the sale did not have the mandate or will of the members and made a pledge to have the land returned. They added that the only reason the land was sold was because the PNBST was cash strapped at the time and needed to survive. This was reported in the PNBST newsletter.

2019: PNBST arranged a deal to settle the remaining land for $10 million. Mau Whenua members obtained a caveat on that sale in July which prevents sale unless withdrawn, removed by the High Court or reaches expiry. However, the issue is, PNBST made the deal before the caveat and therefore Ian Cassels stated confidence in High Court approval to remove the caveat. Opponents stated there was no prior discussion of this sale.  The caveat expired in December 2019.

Also in December 2019, PNBST announced (via newsletter) that it was talking with Ian Cassels’ company to buy land back from his company. After the election in 2019, most councillors opposed the development. They however vosted 9-6 in favour of the proposal to sell 0.3 hectares and lease 0.6 hectares, a decision the Mayor of Wellington (Foster) called, “sad.” There was significant dispute on whether councillors had all the correct information however. The Chief Executive, Kieth Lavery refused to make the transaction and indicated that the whole matter would likely go to a new vote.

2020: November; Wellington City Council agreed to sell and lease land to the development, against the wishes of mayor Foster. Since then land in Shelly Bay is being occupied by Mau Whenua, a Māori group opposing the development but whose society includes opposition on behalf of ALL people who object to the sale.  November, Mau Whenua began occupation of Shelly bay, which persists to this day. Developers have sent a cease and desist letter to remove protestors.

Director Peter Jackson opposes the development, describing it as a “precious green space” threatened by “Soviet-era apartments”.He has threatened legal action over the issue. The lobby group, Enterprise Miramar, cite concerns such as traffic safety and congestion . Mayor Andy Foster said council needs to investigate road capacity and safety. Wellington City Council previously voted to cap its share of development infrastructure at $10m.  

2020: December; council reported spending over $800,000 on legal fees and consultants over the development issue.

Central Government announced a $3 billion infrastructure fund to restart New Zealand’s economy following the coronavirus pandemic. Ian Cassels did apply to the fund, stating the project is “shovel-ready.” Lawyers for Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh implored Government ministers to reject the application.

2021: February; Five engineers for The Wellington Company (TWC) were turned around by Mau Whenua members without confrontation. The land is due to be handed over to TWC by Wellington City Council (WCC) in the next few months.

Occupation persists to this day. The issues are as relevant today as they were 150 years ago. 

I ask you, Pakehā, what did the Queen tell you? Did she say to you, ‘go to New Zealand and fraudulently take away the land of the natives?’

Fair and equitable land sale and purchase is one thing, and in that we all agree. Deceitful historical practice is something else. Is it not?!

Kevin S.
18/02/2021.