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Kiwi developer involved in high profile Rarotonga land stoush dies

Friday 17 February 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Local, National


Kiwi developer involved in high profile Rarotonga land stoush dies
Richard Ireton began developing land in the Cook Islands despite protests from locals. 23021702 GRAHAME COX/STUFF

A businessman who was involved in a long standing land dispute on Rarotonga has died. New Zealander Richard Ireton died suddenly at home in Hamilton on February 8 aged 66.

Ireton and his Cook Islands partner Jessica Lennan purchased the high profile block of land on Rarotonga in 2017 and were unable to build their home after landowners began to recognise the land’s cultural significance and delayed construction

Unproductive meetings with landowners of the Avana Point property left them with no choice but to put the land on the market.

The block of land is still bare and unoccupied. 

The family landowners of the Avana Point property, who sought to declare the historic area a national reserve, failed to pay back the couple who leased the land or offer them suitable land for a swap.

 “We have made every effort to find a solution and were in favour of a land swap,” Ireton told Cook Islands News in 2019.  

The land that was offered to them was either too small or not equal to what they paid for the lease.

It was a waiting game for the Iretons and unproductive meetings with landowners left them with no choice but to put the lease on the market.

In 2019 they called on individuals, government or organisations to send a letter of interest.   

At the time it was reported that if no interest to buy the lease was received or no one from the family landowners came forward to offer another piece of land equal to what they paid for the lease, they would begin to build their home on the property.

Their construction plans had included a public walkway on the property, leading to the front of the shore.

The Iretons reportedly leased the land for a hefty $320,000 for 45 years.

But their plans to build a big house on the land, which is next to culturally significant Vaerota marae, overlooking the ancient makatea rock on its shore, had been met by a widespread community opposition. 

More than 2500 people signed an online petition against construction on the Avana Point site.

In August 2019, a small construction shed on the property was firebombed; police charged a then 23-year-old, Derek Trego, whose family members were among opponents of the building development. 

Vaikai Mataiapo Tutara Sonny Daniel, a land representative, earlier said the family didn’t know opposition to the building project would get out of hand, and had been disappointed with comments on social media claiming the Iretons were at fault.

Daniel had said the family should never have leased out the land.