The family – ie the landowners, are also unhappy with the proposal and welcome the moral support of the other traditional leaders such as the House of Ariki and Koutu Nui, the Aronga Mana and the general community in this matter.
So how did this situation arise in the first place? How did heritage land fall into the hands of complete strangers to the family landowners?
After studying the Register of Title for the land and the relevant Block File, the court records show the following:
In the first instance, an occupation right was requested by the daughter of a registered landowner, and because she was family, the request was granted. A few years later, the daughter asked the family to allow her to have a lease at $1 a year in order to qualify for a loan. The lease was granted and the loan obtained but shortly afterwards, the daughter left the country and has not yet returned.
Meanwhile the loan was in default, and the bank put the lease up for mortgagee sale at $80,000. None of the family had the money to match the new lessee.
Not long after, the lease was on-sold for $120,000 to a Cook Islands couple but I do not recall that the family were given an opportunity to match that offer. But even if we were, the sum was too great to match.
Then in 2017, the Cook Islands couple advertised the lease and eventually received an offer of $320,000 from a New Zealand couple. As per the law, the family were given first right of refusal, but none of the family, individually or collectively, have the means to match that amount of money.
At the time, we really had no one to turn to, to assist us and would certainly have welcomed the help had it been offered.
However, at the time, the lawyers for the New Zealand buyers gave the family one month to either match the purchase price of $320,000, and if not, then the potential buyers would become the new lessees as per the law in relation to leases to strangers.
The family did not have the means to buy back the land, and so, in the alternative and as a poor consolation of sorts, we engaged our family lawyer, to negotiate for a percentage of the lease price. At one stage, there was even talk of suing the family for unreasonable withholding of consent to assign. In the end, as is evident, the new lessee prevailed but a tiny percentage was eventually paid to the family. That money has not yet been distributed because of obstacles laid in our way by other parties.
Fast forward to just recently, when the Environment Impact Assessment process began and we saw what the new lessee had in mind. I wrote an objection but thought that as usual, we would be overridden in our concerns.
Then to our amazement and great delight, there on the front page of CINews was an article quoting a young girl from the extended tribal Kopu Tangata, on the Vaikai side, who had started a Facebook protest about the development.
The very next day, there was another front page story about a young environmentalist making a presentation to the House of Ariki in opposition to the development on cultural and national heritage grounds.
At around the same time, there was also the letter in support by a nearby businessman who offered to donate money toward preserving the heritage cultural site.
The National Environment Service confirmed that quite a bit of opposition to the development had been delivered to their office since the front page stories in opposition to the development were published.
Then just today, Monday August 13, there is a show of support from the House of Ariki who must have discussed the matter at their Uipaanga Nui no te Mataiti 2018. The family are humbled by the great show of support and so my letter is not only to set the record straight, but beyond that to ask for assistance to address the fundamental issue.
Our issue is that if the support is truly there, the family will need a great deal of assistance to compensate the New Zealand couple that purchased the lease at the sum of $320,000.
Perhaps the initial step is to convene a family meeting, then to send a family delegation to hold a consultation meeting with the House of Ariki and the Aronga Mana, then a meeting with the community, to come up with ways of raising the funds to buy back the lease.
The buy-back would be with the view of formally declaring the area a formal cultural and heritage site and to form a Trust or Incorporation in order to protect the land in perpetuity.
In the meantime, and up until the meetings can be held, any interested parties who would like more information may call me on 73017 and I will pass on the messages to the family.
Te Atua te Aroa and kia manuia.
Noeline Kainuku Browne