Subdivision and Māori Land

Māori land is defined in s129 of the Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993. This section defines Māori customary land as "land that is held by Māori in accordance with tikanga Māori".

The Te Ture Whenua Māori Act made significant changes to the powers of territorial authorities to require esplanade reserves and reserve contributions on the subdivision of Māori Land. Its primary intention was to:

  • ease the pressures on Māori land owners to partition or subdivide land
  • enable multiple-owned blocks of Māori land to be developed and retained within Māori ownership.

There are two main differences between normal subdivision and subdivision of Māori land:

  • section 11(2) exempts Māori land from the subdivision provisions of the RMA
  • section 108(9)(b) exempts Māori land for the purposes of requiring land (esplanade reserve, reserve or esplanade strip) as a financial contribution.

Te Ture Whenua Māori Act provides that any applications for subdivision of Māori land that are to remain within the hapū will be dealt with entirely by the Māori Land Court. The Māori Land Court will decide on whether esplanade reserves or reserve contributions will be required. It will also usually impose a restriction that the land may not be alienated other than in accordance with the Te Ture Whenua Māori Act. The council is entitled to make submissions to the Māori Land Court if it feels that reserves should be required and/or a survey plan submitted.

This also means that Māori land subdivision within hapū is not subject to the same assessment as a 'normal' subdivision being assessed by a council, particularly regarding size, shape, area, access and (most importantly) infrastructure and servicing unless the Māori Land Court chooses to address these issues.

Any applications that would involve the transfer of the land outside the hapū are subject to the normal subdivision provisions of the RMA.

Good practice tip

Make sure you are clear when advising customers of the differences between subdividing land that is to stay within hapū ownership and land that is to change ownership outside the hapū.

There are three options for taking esplanade reserves or land as part of the subdivision of Māori land:

  • where ownership remains with the hapū, esplanade reserves and reserves can only be imposed by the Māori Land Court
  • where ownership will transfer out of the hapū, the council may take esplanade reserves or reserves (subject to confirmation by the Māori Land Court)
  • where the council is satisfied that the land is not going to be sold and that only a present owner will acquire any other interest, it has the discretion to waive reserve and roading requirements.

Most records of Māori land are held at the Māori Land Court, although Land Information New Zealand also holds some land records. For information about Māori freehold land, see the Māori Land Online. The database contains Māori Land Court information about Māori freehold land and can be used to locate individual Māori land blocks on a computer-generated map.