Puketiti occupiers Maiki Marks and Paula Beck intend to stay at the Opua headland until the land sale is reversed and the development halted. Photo / Jenny Ling
A large metal fence has gone up, one person has been trespassed, and a security guard is living on site 24/7.
But that hasn’t stopped a group of residents from occupying an Ōpua headland in
a bid to halt a controversial housing development from going ahead.
Two years after Tony Williams, of the Ngāpuhi hapū Te Roroa ki Ōpua ki Haumi, started his occupation of the headland known as Puketiti in 2020, peaceful protests are continuing at the site.
Paula Beck, a resident who has been manning the Kellet St site along with several others, said they intend to occupy it “until the land is given back”.
“Otherwise, they’ll step in again.”
The former council-owned headland was sold to an overseas businessman in March 2020 who plans to build up to 17 houses there.
Far North Holdings, the Far North District Council’s commercial arm, is the project manager.
The group wants Far North Holdings to reverse the land sale and halt the development, then preserve the headland as a park or reserve.
Initially Williams and his supporters set up two large marquees; one serving as a wharenui and sleeping quarters and another serving as a wharekai.
That has been downgraded to one marquee which is used as shelter from the elements during the day. There is also a van blocking the site entrance and numerous signs.
Beck said a large metal fence with two lockable gates was installed around the boundary in March.
Since then, a security guard has been living nearby in a campervan, she said.
“The security man set up a bus to live in on the southern side of the turning circle and has remained there ever since, day and night.”
Beck said it has been relatively quiet at the site since April.
“We can only assume that FNHL are getting their paperwork in order, in the hope that they will find a solid legal reason for the police to support them and trespass us.
“In the meantime, the metal fence remains and the security man remains.”
Williams has applied to Heritage New Zealand to officially turn Puketiti into a site of significance (wāhi tapu).
Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga spokesman Dennis Ngāwhare confirmed the office has received the wāhi tapu application.
“We are aware of the complexities surrounding this area, and the team are currently in the process of seeking further information about the site before progressing.”
Williams, who was trespassed from the site earlier this year, said his hapū had four different Treaty claims pending in the area but felt they had been ”trampled on and dishonoured”.
Fellow occupier Maiki Marks said the land sale was simply a “land grab”.
“I’m all about the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975. Our Treaty claims have never been mentioned in this or other Ōpua Treaty claims.
“The Act is been invisible. The injustice of the past continues today particularly through [former mayor] John Carter’s council.”
Peter Clark, of Te Kapotai hapū, said there was no consultation about the land sale.
The land was railway land which “should have been given back when it ceased to be used for the railways”, he said.
Beck said she also objects to the sale “because of the way it was done”.
“The council can’t just give land to their CCO [council-controlled organisation] and then sell it.
“This has always been land that the community assumed would be used for the community.”
Two petitions against the sale of Puketiti and the development of the land have generated 1775 signatures.
A petition on Change.org, called “Save Puketiti: Stop Kellet St housing development on Ōpua Headland”, had collected 1245 names, while the other on Actionstation.org.nz called “Buy Back Puketiti”, had 530 names.
In August the petitions were emailed to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Auditor-General John Ryan, Northland MP Willow-Jean Prime and Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis, along with Far North Holdings, and Far North District Council mayor and councillors and the buyer’s lawyer.
Far North Holdings general manager Andy Nock did not respond to the Northern Advocate’s requests for comment.
He has previously said the company was aware objectors to the development were alleging the land was subject to Waitangi Tribunal Treaty claims — in particular by the late Sir James Henare in 1987.
That was a matter for the Crown to address, he said.
The land was zoned residential and the development was of a much lower density than permitted. It would provide new accommodation options for people who wanted to live and work in Ōpua, supporting local businesses and the local economy, he said.