Update on RNZAF Base Woodbourne Redress

//Update on RNZAF Base Woodbourne Redress

Update on RNZAF Base Woodbourne Redress

Tēnā koutou e te whānau

We are writing to you with an important update regarding our negotiations with the Crown in relation to RNZAF Base Woodbourne (Woodbourne).

As you will likely be aware, the Kurahaupō settlements included the right for the three Kurahaupō iwi to purchase Woodbourne land and improvements, subject to the operational requirements of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF).  Kōrero regarding Woodbourne began during settlement negotiations with the Crown in the mid-2000s, where we, as Kurahaupō iwi, stood together to advance our respective settlements. These settlements were intended to provide redress for historical grievances and pave the way for a brighter future for our people.

A key part of our settlements was the opportunity to purchase Crown land in Te Tauihu. In order to expedite the settlement process for all 8 iwi, the Kurahaupō iwi elected to decline the opportunity to acquire Crown Forest licensed lands on the basis that the Crown provided the opportunity to acquire an alternative and sufficiently “iconic” site instead; this resulted in the opportunity to purchase the land and improvements at Woodbourne.  This decision was made under the premise that Woodbourne would provide us with the opportunity to exercise our tangata whenua interests as major landowners within Te Tauihu, as well as providing commercial returns to enable us to unlock our iwi aspirations.

The Woodbourne land was included in our respective settlement packages as commercial redress, and as a deferred settlement property the price to be paid by iwi was to be negotiated post-settlement. The site is extensive and was separated by NZDF into a mix of freehold bare land, sale and leaseback operational land, and a former Defence housing estate. These components were made available either as a package or separately, but had to be jointly acquired by the three iwi. Approximately 6 hectares of freehold bare land adjacent to the airport carpark (the former Woodbourne golf course) was acquired by the three iwi from NZDF in 2017 and subsequently leased to Marlborough District Council owned Marlborough Airport Limited.

The path to realising this opportunity has been fraught with challenges and setbacks. The negotiation process with NZDF proved to be protracted and the land issues complex, as the operational intricacies of the base and unforeseen contamination issues came to light.  Throughout these processes, Kurahaupō iwi have engaged in constructive dialogue and negotiation, and we undertook these processes in good faith with the Crown.

The biggest challenge of all has been grappling with the complexities of the site and the unforeseen discovery of contamination issues, particularly Per-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a substance used on the base previously for firefighting and other purposes.  The challenge with PFAS arises from its persistence in the environment and the potential to accumulate in the human body over time. These chemicals do not break down easily in the environment, which means they can remain in the soil and water for long periods. PFAS has the potential to enter the food chain and contaminate drinking water sources, posing potentially serious health risks to humans and wildlife.

Exposure to PFAS has been linked to various health concerns, including reproductive and developmental problems, liver and kidney damage, immune system dysfunction, and certain types of cancer. Because PFAS can accumulate in the body over time, even small exposures can have long-lasting effects. There is no currently known or foreseeable solution for the remediation of PFAS contaminated land.

In the context of Woodbourne negotiations, the discovery of PFAS contamination raised significant alarm for the Kurahaupō iwi. The Crown refused to indemnify Kurahaupō iwi in relation to the PFAS risk, and ultimately, we considered that Woodbourne was no longer a suitable asset for acquisition, given the risks PFAS poses for the wider community and the inability to remediate the land. Had the extent of contamination been known at the time, and its consequences more widely understood, it is highly unlikely that the Kurahaupō iwi would have accepted the opportunity to purchase Woodbourne as part of the settlement package.

Since the discovery of PFAS, our attention has turned to investigating alternative redress options.  To this end, our negotiations team have engaged extensively with the Crown and officials on potential options, including an extensive audit of Crown properties in Te Tauihu, as well as other commercial opportunities.  Many of our whānau will be aware of the challenges posed by existing Treaty Settlement commitments to other iwi and the Spain Award (the area which is currently subject to claims by the Stafford case).  This process led us to conclude that a cash settlement from the Crown was the only remaining viable option to enable Kurahaupō iwi to move forward.

Significant independent land valuation and economics advice was sought by the Crown and iwi to support an assessment of the lost financial opportunity to the Kurahaupō iwi, as a consequence of the opportunity lost due to the prolonged negotiations.

In Budget 2023, the Crown allocated Cabinet-approved funding to offer a payment to the three Kurahaupō iwi of $25.2 million, as compensation for the lost opportunity.  The payment would be made to the three Kurahaupō iwi, in lieu of us retaining our right to purchase Woodbourne.

Despite our best efforts to negotiate a fair resolution with the Crown over an extended period, it has become apparent that further negotiations are unlikely to yield a more reasonable offer.  We consider that the Crown’s offer does not adequately acknowledge the full extent of the losses we have endured as iwi, however, we have little confidence in the prospects of reaching a satisfactory resolution through continued negotiation. There is a real risk that further attempts at negotiations may result in the Crown amending or withdrawing their offer altogether.

Therefore, the respective Trustees of the three Kurahaupō iwi have collectively decided to accept the Crown’s offer.  Whilst this decision was made reluctantly and with deep disappointment, it gives us the opportunity to move forward and explore opportunities that align with the intent of our Settlement aspirations.

In terms of next steps, a side letter will need to be signed between the parties agreeing to vary our respective Deeds of Settlement.

We understand that this decision may evoke mixed emotions.  We share in the disappointment of where this process has landed. However, we believe that accepting this offer is the most pragmatic and appropriate course of action given the circumstances.

We want to take this opportunity to thank our whānau for your continued support and understanding throughout this long and challenging process. Should you have any questions or concerns regarding this matter, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.

Ngā manaakitanga, nā

Janis de Thierry/Calvin Hart
Rangitāne o Wairau

Tania Alesana/Rebecca Mason
Ngāti Kuia

Hinemoa Conner
Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō

By |2024-05-09T15:01:07+12:00May 9th, 2024|Categories: Pānui|0 Comments