Hapū challenges council plan for housing on possible pā site

Ngaati Wairere historian Wiremu Puke says the land is one of five pā sites in Kirikiriroa. Photo / RNZ / Andrew McRae

A Waikato hapū is calling on Hamilton City Council to immediately abandon any plans to develop what Māori say is an historic pā site.

The one-hectare site in Claudelands is currently home to the Sonning Carpark just across the Waikato River from the CBD but the council has been keen to develop high-rise housing on the site.

Ngaāti Wairere said as mana whenua they were feeling excluded from any decision-making.

The hapū is taking a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal but in the meantime it wanted the council to bring in a name change and officially call the site Opoia Pā.

Ngāti Wairere historian Wiremu Puke said it was one of five pā sites in Kirikiriroa and it needed to be protected and respected.

''Who would park their cars on top of a public cemetery or a public war cemetery? Drive their cars and trucks and 'Oh yeah we will park on top of these graves, who cares?' Oh, we care.''

Sonning carpark in Hamilton. Photo / RNZ / Andrew McRae

Puke said Opoia was a highly fortified pā with flourishing gardens growing crops.

Māori were forced to abandon the site in 1864 during the Land Wars and over subsequent years the land was used for a school and then became a carpark.

Ownership moved from the Crown to the council.

Puke said Māori were just ignored.

''We didn't really get a say in these matters because there wasn't the legal framework like the RMA [Resource Management Act]. It was basically developments were done. The effects of those developments were really keenly felt by my grandparents' generation.''

Puke said the rules have changed and the council needed to take note.

''When those legal processes are ignored by a public body you have got to question why they are doing this and, secondly, it's not mana enhancing. One has deliberately excluded a group, like ourselves, and the right to be heard.''

Ngāti Wairere wanted a park-like setting to recognise the site's history and the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi by Poukawa, a rangitira of Opoia Pā.

''This is an invaluable opportunity to recognise Opoia Pā as the place where one of the signatories (of the treaty) occupied this pā.''

Puke said history had mistakenly recorded Poukawa as Ngāti Hauā.

''A lot of the historical documentation at the time often mistakenly recorded Ngāti Wairere as Ngāti Hauā.

''That's the historical inaccuracy that we want to address as part of our treaty claim.''

Puke wanted ground penetration radar used to find out what was surviving as a layout of the old pā under the car park.

''Defence ditches if they are surviving, pallisade posts. At least a good impression if the features are there to reconstruct, maybe by trucking in earth-fill. We are not looking at a full pallisade pā. We are looking at something that is pleasing and authentic as well.''

While Claudelands itself is a heritage zone, this does not include the carpark.

Gordon Chesterman, who is from the Guardians of Claudelands, a group set up to fight the housing proposal said it was only later they learned the site had historic significance.

''We have had a bit of a change of heart from the Nimby approach, we don't want this down our street, to understanding the importance of the history.

''So we have gone away from just opposing the development to assisting Ngāti Wairere in having Opoia Paa recognised in a treaty park concept," he said.

Council unaware of pā

Hamilton's Mayor Paula Southgate said the council has owned the land for many years and at no stage was it listed as a heritage site.

She said as far as she knew the council had seen no evidence to the effect it had been a pā site but it would listen to Māori.

''I don't see a problem with us exploring development on that site as it has been intended for some time but at the same time acknowledging that that aspect may need to be looked at.''

Southgate said the council would be consulting Te Haa o te Whenua o Kirikiriroa, an advisory body made up of local hapū.

''As mayor I wouldn't be mandating anything that went outside a process. We have to follow due process and make sure all the stones are turned over to have a look at and then proceed from there.''

Foster Construction, which expressed an interest in developing the site, has this week pulled out of the project but, for now at least, the council is still keen on hearing any expressions of interest from developers.