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Fletcher Building chief hopeful of Ihumātao solution ‘in very near future’

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Fletcher Building chief executive Ross Taylor says a solution to the Ihumātao stand-off could be possible “in the near future”.

Speaking after the company today issued its trading update for the first four months of the financial year, Taylor expressed optimism about a resolution. However, what form that could take, he wasn’t saying.

“I remain very confident we’ll get a deal between all parties in the near future. I’m not going to come out there with dates. I keep getting burned by dates,” he said.

That was a reference to Fletcher shareholders being told last November they would hear before the end of 2019 about a resolution over the occupation of land the company owned.

Chairman Bruce Hassall said discussions with the Government about the future of Ihumātao at Māngere were continuing: “We have been advised that the Government is hopeful of achieving a resolution by the end of the calendar year.”

That never happened. The occupation continued. And still it continues.

But Taylor today expressed confidence in the new Government over the issue.

He refused to say whether Fletcher intended to sell the land.

Fletcher’s residential division bought the land for around $20 million, planned 480 homes and has been waiting for matters to be resolved.

Last month, Fletcher issued a post-election update on the dispute: “The situation at Ihumātao has been complex and challenging for all parties involved,” the company says.

“Over the last five years, we have taken time to listen to a variety of stakeholders including iwi who have mana whenua over the land, and also to gain all the right council and government approvals for the development to go ahead,” it said.

Fletcher acknowledged the cultural and historical significance of the surrounding area, “and that’s why as part of our plans for the land we own we worked closely with local iwi to design a scheme which would give over a third of our land to the historic reserve adjacent.

“In July last year, the Prime Minister requested that we pause our development to provide more time to explore alternative solutions. We continue to stand back and respect this process,” it said.

Fletcher will hold its 2020 AGM on November 25. Shareholders could seek an update from the company about the situation then, if the stalemate continues.

The leader of protesters occupying Ihumātao says that New Zealand First’s election defeat could see the deadlock end.

The party got just 2.7 per cent of the vote and Pania Newton of Save Our Unique Landscape said today change could now occur.

“Hoping now that without NZ First, we can expect a speedy and more positive resolution. We hope the stalemate will end but we are waiting to hear back from Labour about the resolution for the whenua,” Newton said.

As recently as September, NZ First leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters reiterated his stance on Ihumātao.

At an address on September 25, he recalled how in coalition, he strongly opposed any government settlement and said that as Foreign Minister when he was overseas, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had “halted the Fletchers housing development at Ihumātao”.

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson is promising to always be an advocate for Ihumātao, but says it is up to the people to decide what a resolution will look like and when that will be.

Others close to the situation also expect a resolution, given the strength of Labour’s victory. The fact that the deadlock could not be broken with Labour in its coalition with NZ First meant that now that had all changed and resolution would be a relatively easy victory for the income regime.

Peters said that Ardern’s halt had been called without consultation: “That intervention was a terrible decision. The land’s history was that it was freely sold to Fletchers by the local iwi, the keepers of the land,” Peters said last month.

Newton could create an entirely new wave of Treaty of Waitangi claims, he speculated.

Newton said she was “still on the whenua and will remain till it’s resolved”.

“Ihumātao was wrongfully confiscated in 1863 and soon after, granted to the Wallace family,” the protesters say.

In 2014 it was pushed through as a Special Housing Area and sold to Fletchers in 2016.

Save Our Unique Landscape says negotiations with Fletcher over the proposed housing development “were held by people who did not represent most of the community. The law provides no means for us to contest and we are unwilling to accept a compromise. Our agenda is simple. Preserve, not profit. Once this whenua is gone, it will never return.”

Fletcher shares are trading around $5, giving a market cap of $4.1b.

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