Small town victory for Waipiro Bay

Descendants of the 200 original owners must be informed before return of school is official.

Descendants of the 200 original owners must be informed before return of school is official.

NOT SO FAST: Waipiro Bay School’s land and buildings were supposed to be given back to the Waipiro Bay Whanau Charitable Trust yesterday by the Crown for $1. But the Maori Land Court has ruled the descendants of the 200 original owners must be informed before the handover is made official. Picture by Liam Clayton
THEIR WHENUA: Some of the Waipiro Bay Whanau Charitable Trust trustees outside the Waipiro Bay School building yesterday. Trustees gathered for a morning tea before heading to the Maori Land Court at Ruatoria. From left are chairman Edward Blane, Loretta Mitchell, Wikitoria Tibble, Rea Tamati and John Pohatu.
Mr Blane with Ikaroa-Rawhiti Labour Party MP Meka Whaitiri, who negotiated for the trust for the return of the school building and land from the Crown.

A “DAVID and Goliath” battle with the Crown is not quite over for Waipiro Bay.

The Maori Land Court has ruled descendants of the 200 original owners must be informed before the return of Waipiro Bay School for $1 is official.

For three years, Waipiro Bay Whanau Charitable Trust, with help from Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou, has been fighting to have ownership of Waipiro Bay School and its land returned to the people after news spread in early 2013 that following the closure of the school the Ministry of Education would demolish it.

The land was given to the Crown in the early 1900s. The Crown originally said the land was sold but court documents read by Ikaroa-Rawhiti Labour Party MP Meka Whaitiri showed it was given.

This gave the trust a chance to get back the the land and building at nil value — or in this case $1 — since it was no longer used for educational purposes.

Retaining the building means the Waipiro Bay community’s dream of a community centre is a large step closer to reality.

The handover was supposed to become official at a Maori Land Court hearing at Ruatoria yesterday. Instead, whanau were told this would not happen until descendants of the 200 original owners had been notified of the change.

Ms Whaitiri has been negotiating for the trust and says they are relaxed about the court ruling. Such a quick turnaround is a story unheard of in New Zealand.

“The Maori Land Court is only ensuring the rights of the descendants,” she said. “Everyone is relaxed about it and we respect the court’s decision.”

Handover in four months

The handover will take place in four months, the time allotted by the court to inform descendants.

“It's just amazing. The main thing is that their name is going to be on the title in such a short space of time. You have never heard of a small town going to battle with the Crown and getting a result like this.

“I've been a treaty negotiator myself. I know it normally takes years.”

Ms Whaitiri said there was always a risk of the school being demolished following its closure but quick local responses stopped that.

“That just shows you can be hundreds of miles away from Parliament and still have your finger on the pulse.

“These people deserve the attention. People always hear about how you have to be in a big city to make things happen, but this is a small-town David and Goliath case against the Crown.”

The building was deemed an earthquake risk by the MoE but an independent test by the trust showed it was sound. The only condition is that the pool must be removed.

Once-thriving school

Trust chairman Edward Blane said there were more than 200 pupils when he attended the once-thriving school.

“I don't know if this has all actually sunk in yet because of the time frame. I thought it would take a lot longer and there would be a lot more hoops to jump through. It's unbelievable really. I've been walking around like a stunned mullet.”

The trust has had the right to occupy it since 2014 and already has programmes such as Girl Guides and taekwondo running at the school.

“As the building stands now it is safe and compliant but we have been fighting fires with handcuffs on because we don't own it. Once we do, we can do a lot more.”

Trustee member Loretta Mitchell is a former student of the kura, as were her parents and grandparents, so the whole process has been a “historic milestone” for her.

“Meka has been amazing. Knowing that people are forever in negotiations at other schools and that any land matter takes years, sometimes without an outcome, means it has been quite surreal and unreal to be nearly finished with this process after three years.”

A “DAVID and Goliath” battle with the Crown is not quite over for Waipiro Bay.

The Maori Land Court has ruled descendants of the 200 original owners must be informed before the return of Waipiro Bay School for $1 is official.

For three years, Waipiro Bay Whanau Charitable Trust, with help from Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou, has been fighting to have ownership of Waipiro Bay School and its land returned to the people after news spread in early 2013 that following the closure of the school the Ministry of Education would demolish it.

The land was given to the Crown in the early 1900s. The Crown originally said the land was sold but court documents read by Ikaroa-Rawhiti Labour Party MP Meka Whaitiri showed it was given.

This gave the trust a chance to get back the the land and building at nil value — or in this case $1 — since it was no longer used for educational purposes.

Retaining the building means the Waipiro Bay community’s dream of a community centre is a large step closer to reality.

The handover was supposed to become official at a Maori Land Court hearing at Ruatoria yesterday. Instead, whanau were told this would not happen until descendants of the 200 original owners had been notified of the change.

Ms Whaitiri has been negotiating for the trust and says they are relaxed about the court ruling. Such a quick turnaround is a story unheard of in New Zealand.

“The Maori Land Court is only ensuring the rights of the descendants,” she said. “Everyone is relaxed about it and we respect the court’s decision.”

Handover in four months

The handover will take place in four months, the time allotted by the court to inform descendants.

“It's just amazing. The main thing is that their name is going to be on the title in such a short space of time. You have never heard of a small town going to battle with the Crown and getting a result like this.

“I've been a treaty negotiator myself. I know it normally takes years.”

Ms Whaitiri said there was always a risk of the school being demolished following its closure but quick local responses stopped that.

“That just shows you can be hundreds of miles away from Parliament and still have your finger on the pulse.

“These people deserve the attention. People always hear about how you have to be in a big city to make things happen, but this is a small-town David and Goliath case against the Crown.”

The building was deemed an earthquake risk by the MoE but an independent test by the trust showed it was sound. The only condition is that the pool must be removed.

Once-thriving school

Trust chairman Edward Blane said there were more than 200 pupils when he attended the once-thriving school.

“I don't know if this has all actually sunk in yet because of the time frame. I thought it would take a lot longer and there would be a lot more hoops to jump through. It's unbelievable really. I've been walking around like a stunned mullet.”

The trust has had the right to occupy it since 2014 and already has programmes such as Girl Guides and taekwondo running at the school.

“As the building stands now it is safe and compliant but we have been fighting fires with handcuffs on because we don't own it. Once we do, we can do a lot more.”

Trustee member Loretta Mitchell is a former student of the kura, as were her parents and grandparents, so the whole process has been a “historic milestone” for her.

“Meka has been amazing. Knowing that people are forever in negotiations at other schools and that any land matter takes years, sometimes without an outcome, means it has been quite surreal and unreal to be nearly finished with this process after three years.”

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