Labour decried over Forrester Heights Bill

The Waitaki Concerned Citizens and Ratepayers Association yesterday accused the Labour Party of abandoning Oamaru's natural heritage after MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of a controversial Bill to confirm land at Forrester Heights as endowment land.

The Waitaki District Council Reserves and Other Land Empowering Bill, which passed its second reading on Wednesday night by 97 votes to 23, seeks to reverse a 1937 administrative error that wrongly classified 5.8ha of land as a reserve.

After a recent decision from the parliamentary local government and environment select committee that agreed the land was endowment land, the Bill received strong support from both National and Labour MPs, the only real opposition coming from the Green Party and New Zealand First (14 votes and 8 votes opposed, respectively).

Select committee chairwoman Nicky Wagner said there had been many "twists and turns" in how the land had been recorded down the years and, although getting to the bottom of the issue had been like participating in "a historical whodunit", after examining detailed information she was confident it had never officially been anything other than endowment land.

Waitaki Concerned Citizens and Ratepayers Association chairman Warren Crawford said he was very disappointed with the vote, and with the Labour Party in particular.

"It was an astonishing result. With the Labour Party Conference on this weekend they should be discussing their heritage policy, because they have completely ignored the heritage of Forrester Heights."

Moa bones had been found on the site and it was used in the 19th century as a quarantine station for both animals and humans.

Local iwi Waitaha also expressed dissatisfaction with the result. Te Runanganui O Waitaha me Maata Waka Inc tumuaki Stephen Bray said there had been a lack of public consultation on the issue and the council should conduct proper consultation on whatever it planned to do with the land in the future.

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean said she was pleased the majority of the House had weighed the evidence closely and concluded that the land had in the past been "wrongly interpreted" as reserve land.

The Bill now moves to the committee of the whole stage, where amendments to the Bill may be added, ahead of its third reading.

Mrs Dean said she was "hopeful" the Bill would become law by Easter next year.

andrew.ashton@odt.co.nz