Te wero: How can developers successfully engage with iwi?

E hara taku toa i te toa takitahi, he toa takitini. My strength is not as an individual but as a collective. – whakatauki

Battles over Ihumātao, Waiheke Island’s Pūtiki Bay and the Mataharehare site in Parnell prompt the question: how can those who seek to build or develop more successfully engage with iwi? Could the raruraru – conflict – have been avoided and, if so, how?

Or, as rangatira Leon Wijohn puts it, what on earth do developers really have to offer iwi and why should iwi engage with them anyway?

The challenges to the planned Māngere housing estate, Waiheke marina and Erebus monument are signs of growing anger.

This is the wero: how could the Fletcher imbroglio at Māngere have been avoided? Or the violence that last winter dogged Tony Mair’s Waiheke marina project? And what about the Government’s controversial attempts to build the Erebus monument in Parnell near a 200-year-old pōhutukawa?

Auckland Council names 19 iwi that have ahi kā – title through occupation – in Tāmaki Makaurau and notes: “Political structures will evolve within Auckland as the model of co-governance is refined and te Tiriti settlements call for new arrangements.”

Former Deloitte partner Wijohn (Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa, Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Tahu-Ngāti Whaoa) is the executive chairman at Tara Pounamu Associates, his new consulting firm focusing on iwi/Māori development.

He is helping iwi/Māori with projects including being on the steering committee for iwi developing the Carrington/Unitec site, overseeing Te Kawerau a Maki’s 200-year economic development plan for the 3000ha-plus Riverhead Forest and exploring how Muriwhenua can create an economic base and jobs for its people when tourism restarts.

“Some developments go ahead without issues, but recently we have seen developments stumble or even fail through incorrect iwi consultation, as seen with Ihumātao and Pūtiki Bay,” says Wijohn. “Take light rail. It will cross through areas of many iwi and it’s a process that needs to be well thought through.”

The potential if parties begin to work together biculturally is enormous, he says.

“Some iwi have deferred selection properties and rights of first refusal on land owned by the Government. Rights stretch for another 170 years in Tāmaki Makaurau, so developers working with iwi can begin to unlock that together.”

Rather than asking how developers can consult better with iwi, he suggests asking the opposite question: “The way for developers to engage fully is to ask, ‘what do I have to offer iwi? What do iwi want to achieve and how do I authentically partner with iwi to help them achieve their aspirations? What’s the culture of my organisation and how do I authentically partner with iwi?'”

Iwi/Māori-focused developers are emerging, such as Hāpai and Kōkiri, as well as commercial business Avant. Authenticity is demonstrated via their partnerships with Māori, the culture embedded within their organisations, meaningful employment progression for Māori, and by Māori ownership, he says.

Wijohn acknowledges that it’s often not easy to ensure you have engaged fully, or with the right tangata whenua. And he questions the ability of councils and government agencies to advise on which iwi to consult.

“Often they’re just throwing it out to all 19 iwi as a default position. One iwi may have mana whenua status over a specific piece of land; it is appropriate to start your conversations there. However, your iwi/Māori stakeholder engagement plan needs to go wider on larger projects to cover other potential iwi, environmental and community groups. Ticking council boxes is not always sufficient,” Wijohn says.

“Who your advisers are is crucial because they must understand or have access to the right people who know the local iwi history.

“It’s people, not firms. In a nutshell, you’ve got to find a good adviser that can help navigate you through the potential risks and the potential iwi/Māori politics. If you get it right up front, unlocking the opportunities together will be better for iwi, better for the community and better for development profits.”

Paul Majurey (Ngāti Maru, Ngāti Whanaunga, Ngāti Tamaterā, Ngāti Pāoa) is chairman of the Tāmaki Marutūāhu Collective, chairman of the council-controlled Eke Panuku Development and of the Tūpuna Maunga o Tāmaki Makaurau Authority, has a whakaaro on iwi/developer relations.

“For every development which runs into problems or has that perception, there are many which proceed smoothly which one hears little about. We’ve seen some high-profile developments on land which might be sensitive where iwi have been crucial to its success.If you look at Tara Iti and Te Arai [golf courses] to the north, Te Uri o Hau and Ngāti Manuhiri have been key partners,” Majurey says.

While there have been some high-profile developments where iwi interests and developers have clashed, the same is true for developers and other groups in the community, he says.

Sometimes it’s environmentalists versus developers. Often it’s residents with the resources to oppose the impact of development on their properties, such as recent examples in Remuera and Mission Bay, he notes.

“Where iwi are going to be involved, most developers know to engage early, build relationships, involve them where appropriate. Marutūāhu and [developer] Ockham developed a relationship on an initial development. The relationship is now a partnership that is strong and enduring and building quality residential developments across Auckland which reflect the world views of Marutūāhu,” he says.

As an example of success, he cites Eke Panuku and its reclamation at Westhaven.On the face of it, could one think of a more controversial proposition? Eke Panuku engaged early, took on board the world views of mana whenua – and other stakeholders – and has been able to extend the breakwater, delivering greater capacity in Westhaven, he says.

Another consultant in the area stresses how a Pākehā world via a master/servant relationship must be abandoned for true equal partnership. That’s what te Tiriti demands.

Karen Wilson (Te Ākitai Waiohua) is a member of the Independent Māori Statutory Board, mandated lead negotiator for Te Ākitai Waiohua, chair of the Te Ākitai Waiohua Settlement Trust and the Pūkaki Māori Marae Committee, and held senior roles in the police and on other trusts and boards for many years.

She also says true engagement is what’s needed – but it’s rare.

“How can I say this nicely? There is a process in the Resource Management Act that means they deal with an iwi. I would not like to put it in that manner. Don’t use iwi you get on with as a box-ticking exercise if you think what you’re doing is significant to more than one iwi.

“Developers don’t go wide enough with mana whenua. There’s no true engagement, as opposed to consultation”.

If those who seek to develop don’t know or truly understand iwi concerns and aspirations in any specific significant area, it makes for an uneasy relationship. Take the time to understand and it may prove mutually beneficial, she advises.

She credits Wijohn with Te Ākitai Waiohua partnering with Mat Peters’ Avant Group to build the $50m, 78-unit Kōtuitui project at Manukau as a starting point. That won last year’s Property Council award for community and affordable housing and a merit prize for multi-unit residential projects. Crosson Architects designed the striking red-brick terraces.

Wijohn was central to bringing the parties together, Wilson says. It was then down to Te Ākitai Waiohua to do the rest and demonstrate how they could operate.

Peters says: “We’re proud of what we’ve been able to achieve with Te Ākitai. We don’t just do our developments for profit. It’s for a cause: the neighbourhood, Māori development, a greater vision. We are passionate about the Kāinga Ora and Eke Panuku transformational projects.”

Te Ākitai needed property experts to advise them on their settlement which included property and that’s how it started, Peters says. A further 35 units are planned on the site.

“Often opportunities for iwi don’t get realised,” he says. Working with iwi, development aims get re-prioritised and that changes the way projects are approached.

Te Ākitai/Avant bought the site from Eke Panuku: “The iwi was the key. It wasn’t a financial opportunity but for us to support Māori economic development. It was an exercise to prove that developing as mana whenua to Manukau, and wanting to be part of the delivery of the project. They hadn’t settled their claim at that point and didn’t have any capital so they needed developer assistance.”

The iwi and Avant made money out of the development so it was successful in every way, he says.

The joint venture resulted in a new brand, Whare Tupu, which is now developing 115 terraced homes in Mt Roskill and 80 in Papatoetoe. And Te Ākitai is leading a large new subdivision called Wirihana (named for Karen Wilson) in Manukau, Peters says. That project was part of the iwi settlement with the Government.

All up, those three projects are worth around $300m, Peters says.

Evan Williams, formerly the chair of Te Papa and law firm Chapman Tripp, and now working on a property development on Auckland’s North Shore, says there is an idea of pan-tribal consultation by developers on land developments across Aotearoa, but it is not a sensible idea.

We need trust, patience and to listen, Williams says.

“This is sacred territory. It is important to understand how you are dealing with iwi and leaders. Respect is the cornerstone of every relationship and it’s not the one on the marae doing the speeches at the front, but the one sitting to the side discreetly, either nodding or shaking their head when decisions are made.”

Only by spending time with tangata whenua in te ao Māori, Williams says, can meaningful relationships be forged. Don’t try for a Pākehā-style meeting. It won’t work. Step into their world, he advises.

Wijohn agrees with Williams. National iwi consultation is anathema.

Ockham Residential is one of the most advanced Aotearoa developers for whakawhanaungatanga – establishing relationships and relating with others – although Avondale was its battleground – over trees.

Co-founder Mark Todd explains that he actively pursued true engagement with iwi and tried Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, but was unable to cement ties.

Instead, Ockham joined powerhouse Marutūāhu, headed by ex-Russell McVeagh partner Paul Majurey,

The two organisations are jointly developing 541 affordable new apartments in four blocks, worth $300 million-plus, and many KiwiBuild properties, including Mt Albert’s new Kōkihi, opened last winter.

But that’s not the big play: Unitec is.

Some think nothing is going on because the site is quiet. That couldn’t be further from the truth. An extraordinary level of detailed planning is underway and announcements are pending.

Asked how developers could work better with iwi, Auckland Council planning committee chair Chris Darby says it’s a basic yet crucial question.

“Firstly, it’s important to identify the appropriate mana whenua which have historic and territorial rights over the land concerned. That may be a single iwi group or more if overlapping rights exist,” he says.

The council can help identify relevant iwi and provide developers with key contacts, he says – although Wijohn disagrees.

“It’s important to keep in mind that many iwi groups are deluged with requests and under-resourced to treat with requests,” says Darby. “The council has raised this unresolved matter with Government.”

Developers must establish relationships with Tāmaki Makaurau iwi before seeking advice and sustain those relationships afterwards, he says. Just as developers engage professional services for engineering, architecture and planning, they might like to also consider engaging a cultural adviser to guide the iwi engagement process.

“Iwi engagement should not be seen as some just-in-time commodity. Early engagement is critical,” Darby says.

Steve Evans lost the battle of Ihumātao. The chief executive of Fletcher’s residential and development division had the whenua, where he had planned a housing estate, swept from under him by Government decree after Pania Newton successfully led a protest for many years, buying shares in the listed company, speaking at annual meetings and rallying international support.

How does Evans feel about Ihumātao today?

“There are lessons for both sides'” he says. “I don’t want to get into who won and who lost. Even after the issues about Ihumātao, I would not say negative things about the people on the other side of where we were. They were their beliefs. They were not my beliefs.”

Asked what we can learn about engaging with iwi, Evans says: “It needs to be continuous, genuine and over multiple levels. Historically, we’ve been dealing with local iwi and those who are ahi kā. But it’s become different with urban Māori.”

The urbanisation of the tangata whenua can lead to “a greater potential for issues to surface as we shift from marae-based leadership structures to a more nebulous urban Māori base”, Evans thinks.

He cites Fletcher’s Te Uru apartments at Hobsonville, built in a joint venture with Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara, as an example of success.

But Evans says “you might speak to one iwi leader and be told one thing about history, then speak to another and be told another.” That is the challenge, he says. How to navigate those differences?

“And that’s because there are no three versions of history from each of their perspectives that will be the same. They’re telling it from the perspective of their iwi, which will be different from the perspective of another iwi. When people go ‘how do you deal with Māori?’ – you can’t. You deal with individual people and show respect for their history.”

Kurt Gibbons of residential specialist Gibbons Co said he had spoken to the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust about a partnership, although nothing had yet eventuated. “I would be open to working with iwi. It would be fine,” says Gibbons. “They are large landowners and it’s bringing in a partnership and expertise to develop land. In many cases, they don’t want to sell land.”

Ryman Healthcare struck a 150-year lease on Ngāti Whātua’s 4.2ha Wakakura block above Ngataringa Bay on Auckland’s North Shore. The iwi had bought the land as part of its Treaty settlement. When it is finished, Ryman’s William Sanders Retirement Village will have nearly 200 units. Residents have been living in the first new blocks since 2019.

Developer Willis Bond is working with mana whenua Ngaī Tamarāwaho, Ngāti Tapu and Te Materāwaho, as well as the Tauranga City Council, on a $300m civic centre masterplan, in a deal announced on December 6. A civic whare, museum, library, hotel and a performing arts and conference centre are planned.


At some battleground sites, consultation appears to have been too narrow, not deep enough, or even carried out with the wrong parties – although those involved don’t necessarily agree they did anything wrong or that that is a fair summary.

Pūtiki Bay, Waiheke

Two entities are cited as representatives of Ngāti Pāoa, mana whenua of Waiheke Island: Ngāti Pāoa Trust Board and Ngāti Pāoa Iwi Trust.

But that was not the situation in 2015 when Kennedy Point Boatharbour sought to consult with Ngāti Pāoa iwi about its project.

It relied on an Environment Court ruling that the Ngāti Pāoa Iwi Trust was the representative for Ngāti Pāoa and so met with kaumātua Morehu Wilson and iwi trust representatives. This led to the preparation of a cultural values assessment of the project by Ngāti Pāoa.

The Ngāti Pāoa Iwi Trust was also identified at that time as the representative for Ngāti Pāoa iwi by Auckland Council, which directed the company to consult with it and all Tāmaki Makaurau mana whenua the council identified.

Kennedy Point Boatharbour says: “Of the 17 iwi approached, three indicated they wished to provide input: Ngāti Pāoa, Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki and Ngaati Whanaunga.”

That input was sought. A second cultural impact assessment was also prepared by Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki.

It was only in 2018, after its resource consent had been approved by the Environment Court, that the marina developer was first contacted by the Ngāti Pāoa Trust Board.

Kitt Littlejohn, an independent director of Kennedy Point Boatharbour, says although consultation by resource consent applicants is not a legal requirement under the RMA, it is best practice and an important aspect of any new development in Tāmaki Makaurau. It is the local authority’s duty to maintain a list of iwi authorities for parties to consult with if they wish, and applicants are heavily reliant on this information.

Rather than highlighting violence and problems, he sees triumph.

“The success of the company’s consultation with iwi is demonstrated by the fact that Kennedy Point Marina went through an extensive RMA process without opposition from any mana whenua representatives.”

The company’s consent application was supported by Ngāti Pāoa’s cultural values assessment, Littlejohn says.

“It was only at the end of that process that the Ngāti Pāoa Trust Board was revived and expressed opposition. How could we, or any other development company, have possibly foreseen that?” Littlejohn asks.

“Kennedy Point Boatharbour remains committed to ongoing consultation with local mana whenua and sends out regular, often weekly updates to three mana whenua representatives on the project and an open invitation for them to provide input,” he says.

But the Protect Pūtiki group says a marina should never have been consented there at all.

Mataharehare, Parnell

Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei deputy chair Ngarimu Blair asks why this site is even included in this article. And he also says the hapū is confident a 200-year-old pōhutukawa in Parnell Rose Gardens won’t be damaged by the planned Erebus memorial.

It’s not on the site of Mataharehare Pa, as opponent Kahurangi Naida Glavish says, but Taurarua Pa, says Blair. Yet a group led by Glavish says the whole process of site consent lacked integrity and was pre-determined.

Glavish initially agreed to talk about the situation, then said she would not comment.

Blair strongly defends what happened: “The Ministry for Culture and Heritage did engage with us, the right people, and we have approved the memorial. We are the tangata whenua and only our trust and taumata kaumātua represent the hapū. We support engagement on development with all communities who have legitimate and reasonable interests and do just that on our own projects.”

Asked for names of key consultants or advisers, Blair hits back about that being wrong thinking to begin with: “Iwi themselves are the advisers. Build a relationship with the correct iwi of an area. They can be identified easily as they will have a traditional marae, an urupā and papakāinga in the district. For central Auckland, that is Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. A good sign is when one doesn’t need to hire consultants and advisers.”

Tāmaki Makaurau iwi
Auckland Council recognises 19 iwi in this rohe:

Ngāti Wai
Ngāti Manuhiri
Ngāti Rehua Ngāti Wai ki Aotea
Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Whātua
Te Uri o Hau
Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara
Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei
Te Kawerau ā Maki
Ngāti Tamaoho
Te Ākitai Waiohua
Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki
Ngāti Te Ata Waiohua
Te Ahiwaru Waiohua
Ngāti Paoa
Ngāti Whanaunga
Ngāti Maru
Ngāti Tamaterā
Te Patukirikiri.

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