The Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s water consents hearings are in a shambles. At the latest Regional Council meeting the Council was informed that its Hearings Committee had declined three new water take consents for irrigation from the Tukituki River, but at the very same hearing approved three others for identical purposes.
The reasons given by the committee– comprised of current Regional Council deputy chair Christine Scott and two former councillors, Adrienne Williams and Alec Olsen — in declining the consents, were that the proposed water use would be inefficient and would result in actual and potential adverse effects. The expert staff advice was that approving these new consents would be “contrary to the purpose of the Resource Management Act” resulting in significant over allocation of the river.
The reasons also included particular concern about the effects of other takes and the natural character of the river, and that approving the consent application would be against a number of Council objectives and policies.
In an amazing flip flop, the same committee approved three other consent applications, justifying their decision on the grounds that the applicants had been issued with a draft report in error that gave them “a reasonable expectation” that their application would be granted. And that there were temporary annual consents already in place.
But in reality the staff advice to the Hearings Committee was that the issuing of the draft report in error had no effect on the decision and should not have been taken into account. The committee ignored expert staff advice, choosing to approve the consents thereby placing the Regional Council in a real predicament.
The Regional Council is now in an impossible position of having to support or mediate both decisions which are diametrically opposed. Council gave staff authority to mediate a solution, but you would need the “wisdom of Solomon” to work this one out.
The state of the Tukituki River has been of major concern to many river users in recent times. The Hearings Committee decision to allow new takes, even if they were in effect already, certainly will cause significant disquiet and concern to many people. The Hearings Committee by its decisions has subjugated the policy making mandate of Council. This most unsatisfactory situation is compounded by the fact that two of the three members of the committee considering the applications were not elected members of the Regional Council.
Surely this was an opportunity to mitigate the problems in the Tukituki River. Instead, the Hearings Committee have boxed the Regional Council into an impossible corner. The Council as a whole must now sort out this mess.