WCC Election 2019: Shelly Bay: Media overload, “some of my best friends are Maori”, wounded feelings, and more analysis

The Dominion Post today running a full front page titled “Battle for the Bay” including five pieces on the ongoing Shelly Bay saga. Yesterday, the NZ Herald also ran a piece, and we see some new movement from other groups involved.

A note to readers: I promise you that this is not going to be the only issue that I write about as we approach elections. I had two other articles half-penned and ready to go when this media deluge occurred today.

It doesn’t rain, it pours, or in the case of the last twenty-four hours, it flash floods. The rhetoric and coverage on Shelly Bay is a raging torrent across the news media and social platforms. It’s happening so quickly it’s difficult to keep up with.

Here’s what’s happening.

Yesterday, the NZ Herald ran an article titled “Shelly Bay stoush ramps up as developer takes on Peter Jackson.” Thankfully it’s not behind the Herald’s brand new paywall. It recaps the history to date and points to impending legal action.

Mau Whenua is a group within Taranaki Whānui representing those who voted not to sell the land, those who have reconsidered their position on the sale and no longer support it, and those who say they didn’t get a chance to vote in the first place.

They allege the 2017 sale failed to get the necessary support from 75 per cent of iwi members to go ahead.

Mau Whenua was incorporated on April 17 this year, according to the Companies Office.

“Under legal advice, we recently formed an incorporated society as a vehicle to take the legal action on behalf of iwi members,” a Mau Whenua spokeswoman said.

That group is looking for support, as I wrote yesterday.

Over on the “Maori Land Matters – Take Whenua Maori” Facebook page, they’ve responded to The Wellington Company’s email to Peter Jackson. There are several lengthy posts that are well worth reading to provide more context for the current situation.

You can also sign up for information from the group here, regardless of whether you are part of the iwi or not.

Analyse this: I think that the Mau Whenua group is likely to take legal action against the PNBST “Management” over what they perceive as the illegal sale of land. I have no experience in what that would mean in terms of current ownership of the land as it has been sold off into a variety of mechanisms. It’s a tough hill to climb as the group will require significant funding to engage lawyers in what is a very complex situation.

Next up, the Dominion Post runs their first article for the day; “Majority of iwi land at Shelly Bay sold for fraction of purchase price.” Here’s the short version.

Iwi are pledging to fight for the return of the land despite it being sold. The PNBST initially talked to the Dom, stating that they still held the majority of land, but “could supply not details”, and then stopped returning calls.

CoreLogic research head Nick Goodall confirmed that four parcels of land came into iwi hands in 2009 for a combined total of at least $13.3m. Since then they changed hands but still remained in Taranaki-Whanui-owned entities. 

Then three of the parcels – the lion’s share of the land there – were sold to Shelly Bay Investments Ltd for a total of $2m. That company is entirely owned by Eight Twelve Ltd, which is jointly owned by Ian Cassels and Boulcott Trustee Ltd, which in turn is jointly owned by Cassels and his partner Patricia Taylor.

The article goes on to state that Mau Whenua is going to seek to have the land returned.

Analyse this: The article seems to reinforce what we already knew, which supports some of Peter Jackson’s assertions, in as much as the land has been sold in parcels, despite the iwi voting against its sale.

Changing tactic slightly the Dominion Posts then prints; “Wellington Mayor Justin Lester votes to delay review into council’s handling of Shelly Bay development.”

This article chases another one of Peter Jackson’s points, which was that the Mayor, despite having received donations for his most recent campaign from The Wellington Company and having recused himself from a previous vote, had voted to delay any review into how this has all been handled.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester has voted to delay a review into Wellington City Council’s handling of the controversial Shelly Bay development, despite earlier declaring a conflict of interest in the project.

In 2017, Lester decided not to vote on the proposed sale of council-owned land for the development because one of the likely developers – Ian Cassels from The Wellington Company – contributed to his 2016 mayoral campaign.

But in a vote two weeks ago on whether the council should commence a review into its handling of the development, Lester was one of nine councillors who opted against the idea.

Now, the Mayor says that “He had no problem with casting a vote because, unlike the earlier decision, the proposed review did not involve a financial transaction and was not seen as a significant decision.”

However, Andy Foster thinks the review should go ahead and that any potential issues around perceived conflict of interest should be part of that. Nicola Young disagreed, and WCC Counsel agreed with her and the Mayor.

Analyse this: This is potentially damaging for the Mayor given that while he is most likely technically correct, the process and legalese surrounding that fact are very difficult to understand by the general residents. The perception will be that the Mayor voted to delay a review into Shelly Bay because there might be something to hide there, and given it is an election year, this is now a near impossible view to potentially shake off.

The only course of action that could remove that notion would be to reverse that decision and commence a review now. It would send a clear signal that there was nothing to hide. I am not well versed with the mechanics of Council, but I would think that it is very difficult to do.

As I mentioned yesterday, a tactic the Mayor could take in the next few days is to remove himself from the debate completely, leaving it to the Deputy and three Eastern Ward Councillors who are facing increasing questions on where they stand in this ongoing saga.

The Dominion Post, going all out today, followed with yet another article late morning titled; “Shelly Bay valued at $23.6m, then $12.8m but valuations ‘no conspiracy.’”

This article looks at the allegation the land was devalued to get around the iwi vote. It drags Colliers back into the light, Peter Jackson had firmly put them there in his last post and then does a rather good job of trying to explain how and why land values fluctuate.

It then pulls the Council and The Wellington Company back into the fray and ends up somewhat difficult to read.

Analyse this: People don’t believe that the land is worth that small amount. It has long been said in Eastern Suburbs that the land in the area is an absolute goldmine, and that’s the perception that has stuck. No amount of evidence, confused or not, is going to dissuade people from this view.

And it’s about the view. The views from Shelly Bay and the surrounding land are arguably the best in the entire city outside of Oriental Bay and Roseneath. This is an argument in the court of public opinion that will be lost. That is, due to some complex factors the land devalued by $23.6m to $12.8m, in an environment where we have a housing crisis and prices continue to go through the ceiling.

No one is buying it. Pardon the rather bad pun.

We are not quite finished with today’s events.

Sydney Mepham and Catherine Love, of Mau Whenua, pen a well-written opinion piece on the issue titled; “Iwi members support Peter Jackson’s questions over Shelly Bay.”

They carefully attack the view that some parties in the saga had been espousing, which was Peter Jackson was running roughshod over the iwi along with some commentators, this one included.

The opinion piece is damning, and as always, you should read it to get the full context; however I want to pick up some statements.

“The iwi owners of Shelly Bay”, began a recent article on Stuffhave the right to develop the land around Shelly Bay and “it is no-one else’s decision”. But this was sadly wrong in every way.

First “the iwi owners of Shelly Bay” don’t even own most of Shelly Bay any more. It was secretly sold to a property developer without the knowledge or, we believe, the legal consent of the actual iwi owners in 2017.

A collective of iwi members, known as Mau Whenua, is taking legal action to have what we believe is the illegal sale of our land to Shelly Bay Investments Ltd (the sole director of which is property developer Ian Cassels) declared invalid. We represent those (apparently more than 49 per cent) of registered iwi voters who said “No sale” of Shelly Bay in two separate votes in 2016, as well as the more than 4000 iwi members who were “lost” from the iwi register, and therefore denied voting rights and a voice.

And here, for the Mayor and other parties, express an opinion on what the “iwi” want, this is what it means.

Iwi, meaning descendants, tribe, people, is probably one of the most frequently used and misused words in Aotearoa. As we examine the undercurrents of racism, bias and oppression in our nation, we would do well to use Māori terms correctly, or at least not deliberately misuse, appropriate or transform them.

The term “iwi” is close to the bone for many Māori. This little word describes who we are and who we come from. We are literally the living, feeling flesh and bones of our ancestors. So when Wellington’s mayor, council employees, journalists and even some “kūpapa” of our own tell us that Shelly Bay is an “iwi” development, and that it is what “iwi” want, it is deeply hurtful and insulting.

The authors support Peter Jackson’s questions and they ask all Wellingtonians to get behind them.

Analyse this: Ouch. This one stings. Representatives of the iwi that are concerned with the goings-on of Shelly Bay not only come out and put it plain and simple, they school the Mayor, Council Employees, journalists, and others on some culture.

That smarts.

Hang in there, we’re nearly done. One more.

Mid-afternoon the Dominion Post run a piece based on an email from Ian Cassels titled; “Don’t look at Shelly Bay alone, developer urges.”


This is the most fascinating article of the day for a variety of reasons that we will get to.

Cassels effectively reaches out to Mau Whenua not to look at his dealings with PNBST in isolation. He points out that several initiatives are underway, the article provides no detail and seeks to tackle the issue of the value of the land as well, albeit in a roundabout way.

He then points to what he sees as successful initiatives around the country.

“Wellington needs to look to examples set by the commercial arms of Ngai Tahu and Waikato Tainui – who are self-sufficient entities that own assets in the billions of dollars on behalf of their membership – to gain a glimpse of what real success for mana whenua could actually be.”

Analyse this: This is fascinating. It reads like damage control and is clearly addressed to Mau Whenua. It surely would prick the ears of Mau Whenua up, who are probably asking now what other deals have been done with The Wellington Company and the nature of those, not just with Shelly Bay.

It seems to be a PR piece designed to allay fears over the process that has occurred to date, and almost feels like a sophisticated version of “Some of my best friends are Maori.”

You wonder if the Dominion Post were put under some pressure to print a “right of reply” to today’s articles, and managed to turn that cleverly into another article as opposed to a counter-opinion from Ian Cassels.

Perhaps the Dominion Post should post the entire email in its entirety because a counter-point is necessary for discussion, I think, and we may not be getting the full context of what the developer is trying to convey.

So let’s leave that there.

The final thought of the day must be that we have still not heard from our Eastern Suburb Councillors who are facing increasing pressure from residents to respond. Chris Calvi-Freeman has promised that one is coming, so we wait with bated breath.

One of the things that I am seeing is the rise of new websites and Facebook pages on the back of the ongoing debate. I’ll have more on that tomorrow.