Hapu to continue riverbed ownership claim

Alastair Bull, NZ Newswire June 27, 2012, 5:22 pm

Five South Waikato kaumatua will continue their battle for ownership of a 36km section of the upper Waikato River bed after a Supreme Court victory.

John Hanita Paki, Toriwai Rotarangi, Taihopa Te Wano Hepi, Matiu Mamae Pitiroi and George Mongamonga Rawhiti, who represent five South Waikato hapu, want the stretch of the river bed in the Pouakani block, near Mangakino, to be handed to a trust they run, claiming it was taken unjustly by the Crown.

But the Crown argued it owns the stretch of riverbed under the 1903 Coal-mines Amendment Act which declared all navigable rivers are owned by the Crown.

The High Court and the Court of Appeal agreed with the Crown, saying that the 1903 Act applied because large stretches of the river were navigable.

But the Supreme Court, by a margin of 4-1, said the Crown needed to show that the 36km stretch of river in the Pouakani block itself was navigable.

It said a few stretches were, but that it also included rapids at Ongaroto and gorges at Whakamaru and at Maraetai.

A surveyor who gave evidence for the appellants, Mark Dyer, said surveys in the 1930s and 1940s prior to the area's development for hydro-electricity suggested that "safe navigation of the river in the vicinity of the Pouakani blocks will have been difficult, if not impossible".

A lawyer for the appellants, Ian Millard, says the case is not over as the Crown is still arguing ownership under a British legal concept where the owner of land next to a river has ownership of the riverbed to the middle of the stream.

He said his clients' forebears who sold land to the Crown between 1887 and 1899 "thought they were selling the land. They didn't think they were selling the bed of the river".

No date has been set to determine this issue.

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