Council boss ignores pleas to turn protester's water on

7:48 am on 29 September 2017

A district council chief executive is keeping the water to a Māori land protester turned off despite health officials telling him it's illegal.

Phil Taueki has lived beside Lake Horowhenua for 13 years in protest at its degradation and the loss of his iwi's rights

Phil Taueki has lived beside Lake Horowhenua for 13 years in protest at its degradation and the loss of his iwi's rights Photo: Supplied

David Clapperton, of Horowhenua District Council, is also resisting the demands from his own mayor, Michael Feyen - who he has had several run-ins with already - to turn the water back on.

Protester Phil Taueki has lived in a nursery building beside Lake Horowhenua for 13 years.

His long-running protest at the lake received a boost in June from a Waitangi Tribunal finding that the property rights of his iwi, Muaūpoko, were usurped at the lake and that the Crown was complicit in degrading the lake to the point that it was among the most polluted in New Zealand.

The water was cut off last November, and Mr Taueki said his attempts to reconnect it since he returned there at Easter have failed.

"Where does that leave a person like me?" he said.

He has been getting his water from an outside tap and using a bucket to flush the toilet.

When he tried to get the water reconnected in August, he was trespassed from the council offices in Levin. He has previously had at least 30 charges against him withdrawn, dismissed or quashed on appeal.

A letter released to Mr Taueki this week under the Official Information Act shows the region's medical officer of health, Dr Rob Weir, told Mr Clapperton in late August that the council was not allowed to create an unsanitary situation, no matter what the circumstances.

Read the letter here (PDF, 342KB).

"It seems that the Lake Horowhenua Trust has requested that the council disconnect the water supply to the nursery in order to induce Mr Taueki to leave the property," Dr Weir wrote.

"It seems clear that under both the Health Act and the Local Government Act any direction from Lake Horowhenua Trust to disconnect the water supply to the nursery building (regardless of whether it is the property owner or not) is illegal."

Even if someone had committed an offence such as trespassing, or did not own a property, it was still illegal to disconnect their water, Dr Weir said.

A month since that letter was sent to Mr Clapperton, the water is still off.

Lawyer Michael Bott, who has previously represented Mr Taueki, said he had asked Mr Clapperton and the council what their grounds were for cutting off essential services.

"I do not believe they can. It may be that Mr Clapperton thinks he's above the law."

Mr Bott has referred the issue to the Ombudsman.

Horowhenua Mayor Michael Feyen said he had repeatedly asked Mr Clapperton to turn the water back on.

"I've done everything I can at this point. To me it's a breach of human rights."

Mr Clapperton said he was not trying to drive Mr Taueki out, but had turned the water off last November when the council was told he wasn't living there.

"We were provided instruction by the owners to turn the water off."

It was not up to the council to check if Mr Taueki was living there, he said. "That's for the owners to notify us and that's what they've done."

Asked if he would turn the water back on if Mr Taueki could prove he was living there, Mr Clapperton said that would have to be worked through with the lake trust and lawyers.

In a statement, Dr Weir said the council had undertaken to keep in contact with the lake trustees, and "will ensure that it complies with its legal obligations in relation to the supply of water".

However, this was at odds with what Mr Clapperton said would happen.

An email from trust chair Matiu Sword to the council in August said that "under no circumstances is the water to be turned on until a decision of the legal owner is made to ensure the safety of any person who occupies the buildings".

Mr Sword told RNZ the trust believed Mr Taueki was no longer living at the property, but if he had returned then he was in breach of several court orders.

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