Today the Appeals Court upheld the Forest & Bird appeal challenging DoC’s decision to downgrade, and swap to the Regional Council’s holding company (HBRIC), conservation land necessary for the CHB dam .

Without that land, there’s no reservoir for the dam to fill.

This is a huge victory for the environment, with important ramifications beyond Hawke’s Bay, because — without this legal block — DoC otherwise could have used the same shonky process to downgrade and trade conservation land elsewhere in NZ. Forest & Bird deserve great credit for their  vigilance and persistance on the issue.

Where does this leave the dam? Certainly ‘on hold’ through the election window.

HBRIC chairman Andy Pearce told the Regional Council meeting today that he and his team were seeking to meet with the chief executive of DoC as soon as possible to review DoC’s plans. You can see the brief discussion on HBRC video when posted Thursday.

One option for DoC is to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

Or, DoC could follow the directive of the Appeals Court and re-consider the proposed swap after a proper due course procedure, which would take time to organise and conduct, and the subsequent decision could also be legally challenged. [Of course, another option, less likely, would be for DoC to abandon the matter.]

DoC and HBRIC will have a few weeks to sort out their next steps, if an appeal is to be taken.

HBRIC could pursue another tack … use the Public Works Act to simply seize the land, claiming and overriding public good purpose. However that avenue too would involve an extensive process and potential legal review.

Today I offered an amendment to the HBRIC report which proposed that, before proceeding with further action, HBRIC be required to present for Council approval any plan to appeal or otherwise seek to secure the Ruahina Forest Park land at issue.

My resolution failed 5-4. Councillors Barker, Beaven and Graham supported it; Councillors Wilson, Dick, Hewitt, Scott and Pipe opposed.

My point: if the holding company we own, as the region’s environmental authority, wants to try to outmanoeuvre the legal decision that protected this conservation land, then councillors should have the balls to specifically authorise that action.

Not surprisingly, five councillors voted effectively today to give HBRIC free rein.

So HBRIC is free to pursue any further stratagem to grab the land, without further Council review.

Unless HBRIC succeeds, it’s hard to imagine any institutional investor coughing up $80 million to build a dam without a reservoir!

As for HBRC, it will do with its $80 million whatever five councillors wish to do.

Make sure you know where Regional Council candidates stand on the issue.

Tom Belford

Join the Conversation


  1. What an arrogant, self-serving bunch of five councillors you have to negotiate with!
    Hang in there and hopefully, with the recent water problems in HB, there public here will sit up and take notice!
    Damn the dam!

  2. Tom, great summery.
    But why the hell are you and others not campaigning to place HBRIC in liquidation ?
    No more bovine manure about obnoxious fees, salaries and ruiness contracts for all concerned.
    Time for everyone to put their nuts on the line and tell us why the group of four will not support this action and end the nightmare.

  3. Great result – 4 Councillors deserve to be voted back in – 5 deserve to be chucked a long way out – we’ve been telling people in Napier to think carefully about their vote

  4. Why in hell is DOC in cahoots with HBRIC and wanting to swap this land?

    All I can say, this all sounds like funny business.

    I am immediately suspicious what select groups of people are up to.

    One would think the HBRC would be/should be having second thoughts with the H/Nth Water issue unresolved.

  5. I will be supporting Belford, Barker, Beaven and Graham. (it sounds like a 70s singing group) because I want a return to accountability, responsibility and transparency in Local Government and I am convinced these councillors will continue to deliver that. However we desperately need a couple more like minded candidates to try for a majority or it may just revert to the old 5-4 thing. Tom, go and talk to Pauline? of TransperancyHB? Sorry my memory fails me but you need at least a couple more candidates who share your views.

  6. Definitely need to break that deadlock of 5 useless councillors. It is just like Brexit where a tiny majority decided to leave the EU. It is not right that the people of HB get landed with something a lot of us don’t want and don’t want to pay for from our money.

  7. I cant see why you are all hell bent on stopping this project. Go down to south Canterbury drive from Darfield to Ashburton on the inland route and see for yourselves What can be done with irrigation. The land swop was a good deal. It was fair. A lot could have been done with the extra land this deal would have given forest and bird. You tree huggers will not get my vote.

  8. It is interesting that the debate is so personal .The “useless councillors”” were democratically elected and will be removed in a few weeks if that is the will of the people . I find it fascinating that there is a cast iron assumption that the dam equals intensive dairy farming equals rivers destroyed .If council rules required all dairy cows be housed in barns(which generate zero waste) would opponents of the dam support the dam so that those growing apples wheat barley walnuts etc could make a living ? Or is it a case of “”four legs good two legs”” bad?

  9. This dam project is not commercially viable, not one private investor. Go and stuff the idea of ratepayers’ money being used to subsidise farming. Plus, land for the dam has been illegally obtained. Plus, HBRIC have lost every legal action to date. Plus, they’ve spent around $20 millions of ratepayers’ money to get to this ridiculous state of affairs. Bring back Catchment Boards I say, at least they knew what their priorities were, which were maintaining and enhancing river and groundwater quality. Disband HBRIC asap!

  10. Are you sure that HBRIC can utilize e the public works act? Totally understand that HBRC can – not sure that extends to their holding company?

  11. Re Tim and Barry’s comments: the greater awareness that contamination of the water in both Canterbury and HNth has had (Canterbury has the highest rate of ‘campo’ and stomach sickness for regions in the developed world that don’t cholorinate) is not to condemn farming or the progress that irrigation brings. I think Tom Belford has been clear about that.

    How long does it take nitrates to hit the water table? Surely now that the science is ‘coming in’ about the way nitrogen accelerate bacteria rates, about porous bores, seepage and aquifer entry-portals especially after rain – and (even!) the concept of water as a taonga – means that we have to look at the negative side-effects of BigDams (>15 m).

    There is an available science to this too, not to do with whether it is possible to make them earthquake-proof.

    That nice sight in Canterbury, like lovely treeless pasture land last century, comes at a cost. Do we treasure clean water or do we chlorinate en mass as the UK does? Do we make unfenced rivers a ‘social sin’ or regard them as riparian rights (however that individual concept is defined and was derived)?

    The water wars of the future have begun – and we are in a unique position to make good decisions based on science, informed democracy and common sense educated by science about effects on systems, including stomachs.

    This has nothing to do with how many legs ‘tree-huggers’ have or how comforting it is to label Greenies as looney, unrealistic and anti-progress but everything to do with how we treat our growing waste?

    Why not a Think-small Local-National govt-financed enclosed treatment stations up and down the country that don’t discharge into rivers, making methane to subside farmers pumps to draw water from available river water, and from their own modest and fenced dams to irrigate whatever they like?

    ThinkBig in this location does not seem to meet our need for healthy water for everyone.

    I don’t think ‘conservation’ is just for a few expendable endangered species and a minority group’s airyfairy ideas of what land should be preserved, but for sustainablity for all farmers and townies?

    Plenty of egs elsewhere to see how vested interests contaminate both air and water, for generations, in the name of progress. At least Mr Yule apologies, can see the Questions involved – better than intergenerational regrets.

  12. thanks Tom for your wise counsel. If only such wisdom would awaken those 5 asleep at the wheel!

    Tim G – In answer to your assertion –
    The dam may or may not be the best outcome for the whole of Hawkes Bay. Such a huge investment decision surely needs to consider all available, pragmatic and appropriate research, and consider possible alternatives as well as canvassing the views of all parties.
    Enduring policy needs broad support, not just of the government of the day (central or local).
    My personal objection to the whole damn fiasco is the myopic arrogant view held by the 5 clowns holding HB to ransom.
    The imposition of their view continues: they have failed to listen to any alternative view or possibilities; failed to listen to presented science and extensive research outcomes; failed to consider public opinion.
    These 5, akin to many of their central government cronies, have maintained their positions not because of their intellect or what they can add to their electorates, but through the apathy of the non voting majority. However the latter are finally awakening (particularly with bugs in their water) and hopefully the makeup of the voted HBRC reps is soon to change!

  13. Driving through Canterbury does, superficially, look good with irrigated, green pastures and some landowners prospering. However, the down-side of their massive irrigation is the steady climb in aquifer nitrate levels towards the WHO limit, accompanied by increased bacterial contamination, particularly in NW Christchurch’s shallow bores, while the rivers, such as the Ashley run increasingly dry during summer, all avoidable results of putting short-term financial gain ahead of natural resource protection. Many people now “look below the surface” at the deeper implications of increased irrigation and intensified land use and add up the costs for future generations.

  14. It is not the building of the dam that worries me but the abrogation of responsibility for our environment and the lack of separation between governance and management that is my major concern.

  15. Brian, DOC is in cahoots with HBRIC because the National government is pulling its strings – it’s still pushing its ideology of growing agricultural exports at any cost to make itself look good in terms of economic potential, regardless of the environmental cost. So Lou Sanson is, I suspect, being ‘advised’ what to do. And we know who’s pulling National’s strings. Suggest you read the Appeal Court judgement – eye-opening reading, especially the last few paragraphs.

  16. Lets just supply each and every Farmer his own private well/water supply, it would not only be far cheaper for all who own a home and pay Rates, but more importantly it leaves the fickle Environment alone, and let us all use this latest Havelock North/Hastings Water catastrophe as a very serious warning for the future, we do not need a Dam and distribution network of this size for so few it is utterly ridiculous,and not to mention that it will never ever be cash flow positive by the time the investment is finalized, by the time this Dam and distribution network is finished and finalized we the home owners will be looking at a debt of between 600 to 1000 million Dollars watch and see, and when this Dam does not return a profit, then what is going to happen……Kaitia revisited!! just wonderful.
    Leave the Environment alone it is so fragile!!

  17. Yes Dan, what you have written above is right on target and the first time that I have seen the “elephant in the room” openly identified; ever in the background and pushing its weight while attempting to keep out of sight with some local politicians consistently dancing to the tune that it trumpets. As one local politico is reported to have said “The economy comes before the environment”, thus portraying thinking shallower than the water in the Tuki Tuki.

  18. Tom,

    Your plan to amend the report was very sensible. By voting down that resolution the Regional Council have effectively abdicated their responsibilities and have created the situation where HBRIC has a free hand to pursue any course of action they like. Where is the democracy in that.

    The regional ratepayers voted a council to represent them, not to abdicate responsibility to a separate enterprise.

    Let’s hope that the Napier ratepayers see some sense in they way they vote at the upcoming elections for a new Regional Council.

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