Olivia Haddon with her late father Laly Haddon in 1999. (Photo supplied)

For 80 years, Ngāti Manuhiri have been fighting against sand mining at Pākiri.

Their small coastal settlement on the northern boundary of the Auckland region, about 90 minutes’ drive from the central city, is one of the last and largest remnants of Maōri freehold land and customary holdings in the Auckland region, where only 0.1 percent of land remains in Indigenous territories or Māori title.

Pākiri’s white Holocene sand is used to make high-strength concrete. Millions of tonnes have been removed since the 1920s to cater to Auckland’s growing infrastructure needs. The Sky Tower, Waterview Tunnel and Auckland Harbour Bridge have all used Pākiri sand. Several inner-city beaches including Mission Bay and St Heliers have also been topped up with sand from Pākiri.

 In April, the Environment Court found in favour of the hapū, reinforcing a 2022 decision by Auckland Council to decline long-term mining consents at Pākiri.  

But the legal victory may be short-lived, with the government’s proposed Fast-track Approvals Bill threatening to undo the progress they’ve made.

Here, Olivia Haddon, chair of Te Whānau o Pākiri, and the third generation of her whānau to be involved in this fight, talks to Teuila Fuatai about the long battle against sand mining at Pākiri.


I grew up in Pākiri, and I’m the third generation of my family to be involved in this kaupapa. I’m following in the footsteps of my father, Laly Haddon, who was a much-loved and respected leader of Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Manuhiri and Ōmaha marae. I also chair Te Whānau o Pākiri, our community’s social and cultural organisation.

I’m an urban designer, and I worked at the Auckland Council for about five years. During that time, the region’s unitary plan was implemented.

I learned all about the policies of this massive plan underpinning the development of the country’s biggest city. And I made sure to pay special attention to the section recognising and protecting the rights of mana whenua.

I highlight this because that institutional knowledge has been instrumental in the hard-earned progress we’ve made against sand mining at Pākiri. It has enabled us to test the legal parameters of what we can achieve after decades of trying to stop removal of the sand from our moana.

A sand dredging boat at Pākiri, where Ngāti Manuhiri have been fighting against the practice for 80 years. (Photo supplied)

For 80 years, we’ve appealed to multiple councils and authorities to stop telling companies it’s okay to take the sand. As far back as 1947, the Pākiri Tribal Committee (the organisation that preceded Te Whānau o Pākiri) was writing to the then-government’s Marine Division (now Maritime NZ) protesting against sand mining.

My cousins and I, and the current generation of Pākiri residents, are just the latest line of defence in this fight. Like those before us, we’ve had to learn how the Crown legal system manages mining activity so we can assert our rights as tangata whenua at Pākiri.

I think that’s where my father, Laly Haddon, was ahead of his time. When he and my uncle Gavin Brown were testing our rights in the early 1990s through the Resource Management Act, they were treading new territory.

Now, as Māori, we generally seem better equipped to navigate the laws of the Crown.

I think this is where our fight at Pākiri is particularly relevant to the policies coming out of this government.

If anything, the last four years at Pākiri have shown that the current Crown process can work. And that’s because they’ve enabled our voices as tangata whenua to be part of it. Sure, it was late in the game, but it’s an important legal development that should be acknowledged.

In 2020, applications for new sand mining consents at Pākiri were submitted to Auckland Council. At the time, the mining permits in operation were due to expire in 2023. We knew to look out for the applications because of the looming deadline.

As part of the consents process, council planners must assess applications against the criteria set out in the unitary plan — and that includes the cultural impacts of the proposed activity. In our case, because the application proposed activity that would likely have adverse effects on the environment or people, the planners’ report was made public.

When I looked at what they’d done, I was shocked and horrified. The desktop-analysis said that there were no Māori issues, no cultural issues. The planners had absolutely none of the history of our people at Pākiri and the previous objections that we’d raised over many decades against sand mining.

I just thought: “How come we have to restart this battle again?”

Pākiri is one of the last remaining areas in the Auckland region where the land is in Māori title, so any consent applications under the Resource Management Act should, at the very least, flag that there’ll be cultural issues at stake.

This didn’t even do that.

That’s when I went: “Oh whānau, we need to get involved here. There’s a risk this can go through again. They need to hear from us.”

Olivia, age 11, is pictured here with her late father Laly Haddon, who also stood against sand mining. The photo is from 1987. (Photo supplied)

Throughout my life, the removal of sand from Pākiri has been constant. When I was growing up, it used to be far less constrained. There would be big ships at any time of the day, and at any depth of water, coming in, often beaching, so they could load up with whatever they needed.

That has never sat well with us. There are the obvious impacts that we can point to: the erosion to the beach and the drastic decline in horse mussel beds and scallops. There’s also the violation of our tapu. We know there are sacred sites along the coast which used to be burial grounds. What makes it okay for outsiders to turn up and take the sand and these bones to other places, like Mission Bay?

That harm and disregard for our values as kaitiaki is why we’ll always protest the mining. And why we’ll use whatever tools we have to do that.

The white Holocene sand of Pākiri beach is used to make high-strength concrete. Over 80 years of mining, millions of tonnes have been removed to cater for Auckland’s growing infrastructure needs. (Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi)

In the 1990s, my father and his generation learned they could never stop the mining under the legal framework of the time. Then, in the 2000s, the mining company Kaipara Limited came into the picture. Kaipara made efforts and overtures to be better operators, to listen to our concerns and build a relationship with our leaders at the marae.

It took my dad a while to come around, but he did. He saw the relationship with Kaipara as a necessary trade-off to reaching our goal of stopping the removal of our whenua, of the sand.

However, the company never really lived up to what they’d promised in terms of maintaining a relationship with the elders on the marae and regularly updating them of activities.

When the Pākiri mining consents came up for renewal in 2020, I knew we had a few more legal options than in previous years.

Te Whānau o Pākiri, supported by Ngāti Manuhiri and our iwi Ngāti Wai, requested that Auckland Council come to our hall to hear our concerns.

I knew that in the Auckland Plan 2050 (the council’s long-term plan for the city’s development), the council had stated that Auckland’s development should enhance Māori identity and wellbeing. Specifically, the plan states that council will need to recognise and provide for Te Tiriti o Waitangi outcomes in its work to achieve that.

We wanted to test the council’s commitment to this. The request to come to Pākiri was a challenge to them, and the mining companies, to meet us on our ground. That had never happened before. When I was a teenager, Dad, my uncle Gavin, and other kaumātua always travelled to Auckland to attend meetings and hearings about the sand mining.

And, to their credit, the council agreed. I have to say that Auckland Council’s democracy services and key people from the Ngā Matarae team, like Richard Naihi, Otene Reweti and Nikora Wharerau, worked hard to support our tikanga and make this happen, for which we were very grateful.

At the first hearing in Pākiri, the kids from the school came and did a haka pōwhiri for the council commissioners and mining company representatives. The school is right across the road from our hall, and it was really good for them to see the tamariki coming forward. To see the next generation that will be affected by mining.

The council also came to the marae. Everyone came out of the bush and felt comfortable about attending. There was a lot of community participation and those who’d put in a submission were able to give evidence while supported by their community.

I remember that Steve Riddell, the managing director of Kaipara, was at the first hearing. He’s from the West Coast and has a mining background. He was really moved after hearing directly from our community and whānau about how impacted they were by the continuation of mining activity in our moana and close to our home. I also think he was surprised about the fight that we were prepared to put up.

The companies and the council were hit with the full force of our resistance at those hearings. Steve in particular had never come to that realisation before, and since then, Kaipara has withdrawn from Pākiri. Now, we’re dealing with just one mining company, McCallum Brothers.

I also believe that once the council heard from our community, they were able to better understand our concerns and problems. More than that, they got to experience Pākiri for themselves.

The two hearings at our local hall took place during the darkest and coldest part of the year. It was so cold that we ended up sending young kids home to get heaters so the commissioners wouldn’t freeze. Because the hall is run by the council, its staff saw first-hand what the conditions were like. For us, one of the best things that came out the hearings were the two new heat pumps the council installed.

Of course, we were also relieved and overjoyed that once the council had collected all the relevant evidence, from us and the miners and other interested parties, they decided against issuing new mining consents.

That decision is what McCallum Brothers went to the Environment Court about. Unlike Kaipara, they are determined to continue taking the sand.

Pākiri’s Holocene sand is used to make high-strength concrete. It is dredged by boats up and down the coastline. (Photo supplied)

The case in the Environment Court was massive. It included information, evidence and analysis from a range of groups, environmental organisations, government agencies and experts. The substantive hearing went for eight weeks in July and August last year, and that was after we’d had months of pre-trial legal stuff. I gave evidence on behalf of Te Whānau o Pākiri. We also had kaumātua from our marae involved.

During that time, McCallum Brothers continued to mine at Pākiri in a limited capacity, as agreed to through the court process. These temporary, restricted rights to mine will remain in place while the legal case is pending.

In April, the Environment Court delivered its decision. The judgment effectively reinforced the 2022 decision by Auckland Council to decline long-term mining consents at Pākiri to McCallum Brothers. The company has now gone to the High Court to appeal the decision on points of law. We feel they’re exercising their privilege.

I think our case at Pākiri shows the legal system has evolved. Yes, much, much more is needed. But through the Environment Court decision, we’ve seen how our values and rights as Māori and our tikanga can legally be recognised and protected.

I was in Australia watching my son compete in athletics when the decision came in. I didn’t believe it at first. I had to ring my mate after getting the message that we’d won to make sure it was real. I’ve also read the decision over and over again to make sure I’m not imagining things. Because, after all these years, it’s pretty surreal that a Pākehā court recognises the harm to our mana and mauri from the mining.

I also learned through our experience at the Environment Court how invaluable having a robust, fact-based process is for these issues.

The court judges, as independent decision-makers, were presented with a mass of evidence and scientific information from us. They used their expertise to weed out inaccuracies and unhelpful information. The initial consent application basically said there were no impacts from the mining at Pākiri. It made no mention of the effects on mana whenua and presented a very one-sided picture of operations and a kind of “good-hearted sustainability” on behalf of McCallum Brothers.

The court process dismantled all of that. It highlighted significant errors in information from the mining company and revealed where the application fell short in its obligations under the unitary plan and the Resource Management Act.

Under the proposed fast-track legislation, that scrutiny and robust decision-making process is at risk. Chosen projects will be assessed by just one expert panel, which has up to six months to make recommendations about an application. The final say on whether a project is approved, however, lies with three government ministers. Shane Jones (Minister for Regional Development), Chris Bishop (Minister for Infrastructure) and Simeon Brown (Minister of Transport). For applications involving the Wildlife Act, Tama Potaka (Minister of Conservation) will also be involved.

In our case, if authorities had relied on the initial evidence and consent applications from mining companies, we’d be far worse off. That swathe of information, quite predictably, supported sand mining.

I’m proud that Te Whānau o Pākiri were among the 27,000 submitters on the fast-track bill. We’ve also been invited to speak to the select committee about our submission this month. Other groups against the sand mining at Pākiri also submitted.

Fortunately, McCallum Brothers is not on the list of organisations that RMA reform minister Chris Bishop wrote to “with information on applying to have a project considered for inclusion in the Fast-track Approvals Bill”.

I have no doubt that, should the bill go through, our coast will once again be the target of mining consent applications — this time, with no clear avenue for our voices and rights as mana whenua to be upheld.

It feels like we just got a goal, and now they’ve moved the goalposts.

After all our work and progress, what a shame that would be.


Olivia Haddon is of Ngāti Manuhiri, Ngāti Wai and Ngāti Ruanui descent. In her work as an urban planner and urban designer, she champions design partnerships with mana whenua and kaitiakitanga, prioritising Māori design processes and relationships with iwi in infrastructure and civic design projects. Olivia has three children and loves art, being Māori, and living in Tāmaki Makaurau. This year, she’s at Te Wānanga o Takiura reclaiming her reo Māori in a full immersion te ao Māori environment and loving every minute of it.

Submissions for the Fast-Track Approvals bill closed on April 19. The environment select committee is now hearing oral submissions on the bill. A protest march against the proposed legislation organised by a collection of groups including Greenpeace and Forest and Bird is planned on Saturday June 8 in Auckland.

As told to Teuila Fuatai. Made possible by the Public Interest Journalism Fund.

© E-Tangata, 2024

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