Hawke's Bay Regional Council under fire for river stand
The group asking for a Water Conservation Order for Hawke’s Bay’s Ngaruroro and Clive Rivers is disappointed the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council has come out against the initiative, describing the move as “baffling”.
The council agreed at its February 3 Planning Committee meeting to write to the Environment Minister opposing the Water Conservation Order application for the Ngaruroro and Clive Rivers.
The Water Conservation Order (WCO) application was lodged with the minister just before Christmas by a group of iwi, environment and recreation organisations comprising Fish & Game, Ngati Hori ki Kohupatiki, Forest & Bird, Whitewater NZ and Jet Boating NZ.
A WCO is the highest level of protection that can be given to a river or lake and is designed to preserve a waterway’s outstanding natural values for fish, wildlife, outdoor recreation and future generations. New Zealand presently has 15 WCOs.
The group’s chair, Doug Rankin, says the council decision is baffling.
“All the applicants are disappointed the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council has made this decision, and worse that it came to its conclusion despite the full council having had a personal presentation explaining the order and associated law.”
“We are disturbed the council is failing to appreciate the Ngaruroro’s magnificence, its place in Hawke Bay life and the recreational opportunities it offers,” Dr Rankin says.
Dr Rankin says the council is most unlikely to be representing Hawke’s Bay residents’ views on the issue.
“All the WCO applicants are at a loss to understand how the council could be so out of step with locals, including iwi. As a regional council purporting to represent the views of ratepayers, its position is not reflecting the wider community’s views.”
“Our group has spent years compiling this application and worked very hard to make sure the existing use of the water resource by industry and others is provided for. It leaves me wondering whether the regional council’s response is simply a consequence of it not being in control of the process.”
“The Hawke’s Bay Regional Council doesn’t seem to care about nationally important rivers, such as the Ngaruroro,” says Dr Rankin.
Ngati Hori ki Kohupatiki spokesperson Akenehi Paipa agrees.
“We are trying to secure recognition of the Ngaruroro’s mana and mauri and preserve it for our future generations. Water is one of our most treasured resources and the council should be supporting our WCO application, not opposing it”, she says.
Forest and Bird is also puzzled by the council’s decision.
“The council is demonstrating a fundamental misunderstanding of the importance of Water Conservation Orders and their place as the equivalent of national parks for rivers and lakes”, Forest and Bird’s solicitor Sally Gepp says.
Fish & Game’s chief executive Bryce Johnson questions why the council didn’t talk to the applicants before making its decision.
“This application is by far the most comprehensive ever made for a Water Conservation Order. It is unique because of the broad range of applicants, and industry and other supporters, so it is incomprehensible the council didn’t bother discussing it with us before writing to the minister.”
“The council’s actions seem to indicate it is struggling to recognise the law in this matter and I doubt the councillors or their advisers have even actually read the relevant legislation,” says Mr Johnson.
The Ngaruroro applicants are expecting the Environment Minister to reject the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s request and proceed with the next step in the WCO process by establishing a special tribunal to hear the application.
“While the Minister has the authority to reject an application, this has never happened before. Any rejection would need to be for some very substantive reason, not the parochial whim of a regional council opposed to a statutory process just because it is not in control of it”, says Mr Johnson.