Sir Peter Jackson’s WingNut Films believed to have pulled funding from iwi’s Shelly Bay litigation fight

An iwi group disputing the sale of land at Wellington’s Shelly Bay has lost major allied party funding for its court case, leaving members trying to find millions of dollars.

The Herald understands the party is WingNut Films, of which Sir Peter Jackson is a director.

Mau Whenua is a group within Taranaki Whānui challenging whether iwi-owned land at Shelly Bay should have been sold for a controversial $500 million housing development.

The Herald has previously reported WingNut Films was bankrolling the iwi group.

Court documents seen by the Herald showed the company had agreed to meet certain costs over and above those met by the plaintiffs.

The donation agreement outlined the company must not interfere with, meddle in, or otherwise influence the proceedings.

But today Mau Whenua said major allied party funding of the case would cease on December 18, calling it “bitter blow”.

Member Dr Catherine Love acknowledged the effects of Covid-19 on the film industry and the “difficult decisions” Mau Whenua allies and supporters have been forced to make.

“They have been strong and reliable allies for our kaupapa – to expose and correct injustice, to hold our land, and to uphold environmental principles relating to our land and harbour.”

WingNut Films and its directors have been approached for comment.

Jackson is a long-standing opponent of plans at Shelly Bay describing the development as one that would invoke blocks of Soviet-era apartments dumped on Wellington’s picturesque peninsula.

Love said Mau Whenua had other financial contributors both large and small.

But she confirmed the group would have to come up with the lion’s share of the $2.2m needed for litigation, which she described as a conservative estimate.

“The legal costs are prohibitive for ordinary people to be able to have access to good quality representation and to be able to take on the big players.”

Love was still “deeply appreciative” of those who were prepared to stand up for their community, despite the funding now being taken off the table.

Lawyers for the case filed a memorandum this morning notifying the court of the pending cessation of funding arrangements, Mau Whenua said.

The group is now exploring alternate options for raising money to continue their case.

Ideally Mau Whenua would be able to come up with the money by December 18, Love said, but the court case might have to be delayed if they couldn’t.

If the funds are not able to be raised, the case cannot be presented in the High Court.

Last month Mau Whenua started a land occupation at Shelly Bay with a view of staying there until the case would be heard by the court in March 2021.

Mau Whenua represents those iwi members 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.

The scope of that representation also includes “all New Zealanders who oppose the current development proposal”, according to the group’s Facebook page.

Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust made moves to sell iwi-owned land at Shelly Bay in 2016, but the trust failed to get the necessary 75 per cent majority vote.

Instead the land was sold separately in parcels to Shelly Bay developer Ian Cassels, it’s alleged, as a way around the deal being classified as a major transaction.

Mau Whenua claims the trust went against the will of its own people and that the deal was done in secret.

Love said the land occupation would continue for as long as necessary.

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