Waikato District Council working to return Raglan Airfield land to mana whenua

Roger MacCulloch, Mayor Allan Sanson, and Gavin Ion with representatives of Raglan Airfield land mana quandua to mark the return of the land to its rightful owners.

Waikato District Council is trying to right a mistake in the district’s history as the council unanimously agreed last week to return the land currently used as Raglan Airfield to Maori ownership.

Raglan Airfield was once an amalgamation of three separate plots of land, Part Papahua No. 2, Part Papahua No. 1 and Te Kopua totaling 36 ha. Parts of the land were returned to Maori ownership in 1987.

The remaining 10.3 ha are owned by the council and operated as an unmanned airfield.

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In 1936 an Air Force officer selected the area as suitable for an emergency airfield. He would have had conversations with elders from a local Māori group since the airfield block was made up of land from the Te Kōpua and Papahua blocks which were in freehold Māori ownership.

After World War II, the area was no longer needed for defense purposes. Rather than return it to its former owners, the Civil Aviation Authority asked Raglan County Council to take over the administration of the airfield.

In 1969 the land was declared Crown Land and vested in the County Council. The acquisition of the reserve may, with the consent of the administrative body (council), be canceled by the Minister.

From 1971, the issue of returning land to original Māori owners was pursued by the local Raglan Tuaiwa (Eva) Rickard and the Matakite-O-Aotearoa (Land March) movement.

In June 1987 Lot 1, the parcel previously used as a golf course and now known as Te Kōpua Block No. 4 was returned to Māori ownership.

The area now known as Raglan Airfield (lot 2).  Photo / Danielle Zollickhofer
The area now known as Raglan Airfield (lot 2). Photo / Danielle Zollickhofer

The area now known as Raglan Airfield (Lot 2) was retained by Waikato District Council, the successor to Raglan County Council.

To return the last part of the land (Lot 2. SA11D/1059), the councilors approved the engagement of staff from the Crown Relations Office (Te Arawhiti) and other agencies.

Council, Mana Whenua (Ngati Maahanga, Newton Whaanau Trust & Papahua 1 and descendants of Te Kopua Block / Tainui O Tainui) had discussions on the future of the airfield.

As a result, the council has now given its approval to engage with Te Arawhiti and other relevant agencies to facilitate land restitution.

The procedure involves the council asking the minister to cancel the acquisition of the reserve.

Councilors said they felt it was the right thing to do. Mayor Allan Sanson said it was a historic day for council to right a past wrong

“It gave us a chance to put some order in another piece of our history and confirms a change of direction for us in this area,” he said.

“It should also be noted that the process for returning land is likely to be complicated, involve multiple agencies and parties, and may not always be under the direct control of the council,” the council said.

Raglan Airfield isn’t the only land that should be returned to iwi. In July, the council began work to return the historically significant Te Paina (Mercer Domain Recreation Reserve) site to Waikato-Tainui and its hapū.

The Department of Conservation which is managing the proposed transfer process of Te Paina is currently working on community feedback.