Landlocking is a particularly acute problem in Taihape. Photo / Bevan Conley
The Crown failed to remedy the problem of landlocking where Māori have no legal or physical access to lands they own, the Waitangi Tribunal has found.
The latest report, He Whenua Karapotia, He Whenua Ngaro: Priority Report on Landlocked Māori Land in the Taihape Inquiry District, precedes the tribunal’s main report on the broader Taihape: Rangitīkei ki Rangipō District inquiry.
Landlocking affects Māori land nationally but is a particularly acute problem in Taihape, where more than 70 per cent of remaining Māori land is landlocked – exceeding 50,000 hectares.
Despite retaining ownership of the land, Māori cannot set foot on it without obtaining the consent of neighbouring landowners.
Waitangi Tribunal findings
The tribunal concluded that flaws in the Crown’s native land legislation caused landlocking in Taihape.
Landlocking began in the decades before 1912 when the Crown did not require the Native Land Court to preserve access to Māori land as it was partitioned.
Upon the sale or lease of a partition with road access, blocks of Māori land lying beyond it usually became landlocked.
Māori land owners could apply for access to their land as they passed through the court, but the tribunal found these provisions ineffective in practice, as they still gave the court discretion on whether to grant access and required Māori owners to pay the significant cost of creating the access.
The tribunal argued Māori should not have had to take such steps to retain access, because the risk of landlocking arose from legislation imposed on them, not actions they had taken.
It also found the Crown’s legislative attempts to remedy landlocked Māori land have been flawed and ineffective, breaching Treaty principles.
The Crown conceded that its remedies in the period from 1912 to 1975 were ineffective and prioritised European land owners’ interests to the disadvantage of Māori land owners, breaching Treaty principles.
As a result of these measures, Māori of the inquiry district had no legal avenue to unlock their land for more than 60 years.
Since 1975, the Crown has tried to improve its remedies for landlocking, but the tribunal said they have remained ineffective.
Despite the changes, no Māori land owners in the district have successfully used these remedies to unlock their land.
The tribunal’s recommendations
To remedy landlocking in the Taihape district, the tribunal recommended the Crown establish a contestable fund to which Māori owners of landlocked land can apply to achieve access.
The fund would pay for access that may be granted by the Māori Land Court, including any compensation payable to neighbouring landowners.
The tribunal stressed that funds for this purpose should not be taken from the sum set aside to settle the district’s historical claims.