Righting a wrong in our history was the theme behind a Waikato District Council decision regarding the Raglan Airfield land yesterday.
Councillors unanimously agreed to approve staff’s engagement with the Office for Crown Relations (Te Arawhiti) and other agencies to facilitate the return of the Raglan Airfield land (Lot 2. SA11D/1059) to its rightful owners.
In February 1936, following reported conversations with elders from a local Māori group, the area now known as Raglan Airfield was selected as a suitable location for an emergency airfield by an Airforce Officer and obtained for this purpose.
The 36-hectare airfield block was made up of land from the Te Kopua and Papahua blocks which were Māori freehold land. Following the end of World War Two, the area was no longer required for defence purposes.
However rather than returning the land to its former owners, the Civil Aviation Authority requested Raglan County Council take over the administration of the airfield, which it did.
In 1969, the land was declared ‘Crown Land’ and formally vested in the Raglan County Council.
From 1971 the question of the land going back to the original Māori owners was pursued by Mrs Tuaiwa (Eva) Rickard and the Matakite-O-Aotearoa Movement.
In June 1987, Lot 1, the parcel previously used as a golf course and now known as Te Kopua No. 4 Block was returned to Māori ownership.
The area now known as the Raglan Airfield (Lot 2) was retained by Waikato District Council, the successor of Raglan County Council.
Since that time, WDC has continued to manage the land and operate it as an unmanned airfield.
In early 2019, the CAA issued a notice to aviators which prompted many airfield operators to review the safety of their sites.
During the implementation of these safety improvements, significant interest was generated in the community which resulted in an onsite occupation of the land.
This action coincided with conversations between Council staff, Mayor Allan Sanson, Councillor Thomson, Mana Whenua (Ngati Maahanga, Newton Whaanau Trust & Papahua 1 and descendants of Te Kopua Block / Tainui O Tainui) on the future of the airfield.
As a result of these discussions, Council has now given approval to engage with Te Arawhiti and other relevant agencies to facilitate the return of the land to its rightful owners.
The reserve land is an amalgamation of what was previously three main separate land parcels – Part Papahua No. 2, Part Papahua No. 1 and Te Kopua.
At the moment, the land (10.3ha) is owned by the Waikato District Council and held by the Council in trust as a Reserve under the Reserves Act 1977. The land is classified as a Local Purpose (aerodrome) Reserve.
As such it must be managed in accordance with the Act until this classification is changed.
Section 27 of the Act states that the vesting in the reserve may, with the consent of the administering body (Council) be cancelled by the minister.
This action would relinquish Council of administration responsibilities and would facilitate the return of the land to the rightful owners.
As a result of yesterday’s decision, staff will start discussions with the minister to request the vesting of the reserve is cancelled.
But it is important to note that while today’s decision will ultimately result in the land changing ownership, it does not enact the change.
As progress is made with the process, further recommendations will be made and relevant legal considerations will be highlighted to Council.
It should also be noted that the process to be followed to return the land is likely to be complicated, involve multiple agencies and parties, and will not always be in Council’s direct control.
Councillors spoke at yesterday’s Council meeting about this simply being the right thing to do.
Mayor Allan Sanson said it was a historic day for the council to right a wrong that has occurred in the past.
“It’s given us a chance to tidy up another piece of our history and it confirms a shift in direction for us in this area,” he said.