21 Jul 2022

Court of Appeal throws out controversial Canterbury water bottling consents

12:59 pm on 21 July 2022

A long-running Canterbury water stoush has been settled - at least for now - with the Court of Appeal yesterday throwing out controversial water bottling consents.

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Photo: 123rf

In 2017, Canterbury Regional Council granted Cloud Ocean Water and Rapaki Natural Resources consents allowing them to extract billions of litres of water from Christchurch's aquifers.

The consents were originally granted with land intended for a wool scour and freezing works, and extended to the water bottling companies when they bought the properties.

Aotearoa Water Action fought the decision from the start, and the win has them hopeful the council's mistake will not be repeated.

Spokesperson Peter Richardson said he was thrilled the past five years of campaigning had paid off.

"We're very very pleased to have won and we hope that this is a precedent in some way for change for the better."

Richardson thought communities had to be vigilant to protect themselves and their resources.

"We believe we can see there is a long-term threat to the ability for communities to provide for their own needs ... and we can see a future where access to our resources is governed by corporates that really have very little interest or stake in the welfare of the communities," he said.

Thousands of Cantabrians backed the campaign, which was also supported by the Christchurch City Council to the tune of $50,000.

The way the consents were granted angered many locals, city councillor Pauline Cotter said.

"You can no longer - hopefully - purchase a consent that was granted many years ago, under different conditions, for a different purpose and use that consent for a new purpose. Things change over time so we do need to look at each consent on its own merit," she said.

Cotter hoped the ruling would encourage the city and regional councils to properly address the bigger challenge of water quality.

"We do have a lot of water in the aquifers. I think our main focus as a city council and as a regional council needs to be on our water quality and protecting that," she explained.

While Aotearoa Water Action wanted this to be the end of the road, the fight might not be over just yet.

"Canterbury Regional Council and the water bottling companies have the right to apply to the Supreme Court to appeal the decision. We're prepared for that and I wouldn't say we're happy for that to come on but we would accept that if that's the way things go," Peter Richardson explained.

In a statement, Cloud Ocean spokesman Feng Liang said the decision is disappointing, but it will be thoroughly reviewed before the company makes any further moves.

Canterbury Regional Council also gave a statement in which the chief executive, Stefanie Rixecker, said the Court of Appeal's decision means water take and use must be considered together.

For the bottling companies, the result means they could use the water for its original purpose - scouring wool and meat processing - but not for bottling.

The decision would have implications well beyond water bottling and its consent process would be reviewed, Rixecker said.

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