Anger at Hawke's Bay council decision to defer dam consent fees

2:11 pm on 1 September 2022
Placards outside the Hawke's Bay Regional council chambers on 30 August 2022.

Placards outside the Hawke's Bay Regional council chambers yesterday. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

Opponents of a dam development in Central Hawke's Bay say a regional council decision to defer consent fees is a concern for the future.

Money was slammed down on the table yesterday, in the latest saga in the Ruataniwha dam development which was blocked by the Supreme Court several years ago.

Placards were strewn around the courtyard outside the Hawke's Bay Regional Council chambers yesterday.

The signs read: "Charity event, water barons in need", "No favour, no payment, no consent", and "No more ratepayers dollars for dodgy dam".

The Ruataniwha dam is a controversial matter in the region.

Although it was blocked by the Supreme Court, resource consents for a dam in the area were sold by the regional council's investment arm to private group Water Holdings Hawke's Bay.

But the company cannot do anything in the area because of the court ruling.

They have been trying to defer payments until they can get legislative permission to do something, and yesterday were successful.

Central Hawke's Bay resident Trevor Le Lievre was angry, saying the can had been kicked down the road.

"It speaks volumes to ratepayers, saying if you've got a debt that you knew about when you went into it, and for whatever reason you can't pay it the council will look at deferring it, so this sets a pretty concerning precedent."

There were different takes from mana whenua too.

Api Tapine is co-chair of the council's regional planning committee and only has speaking rights at full council meetings.

He said he spoke to Heretauanga Tamatea Settlelment Trust, that wanted more time to work on their relationship with Water Holdings Hawke's Bay, and asked for the payment to be deferred.

"In the interests of providing a genuine ability for the water group to meet with mana whenua over this issue into the future, it would seem that the extension option provides for that opportunity for them to do so with mana whenua."

Michelle McIlroy, co-chair of the council's Māori committee, who also only had speaking rights, had another opinion.

"I spoke to mana whenua, Ngāti Pouwharekura of the Makaroro last night, and they continue to not support the Ruataniwha dam consent proposal or consideration of extension. In their words, kāore, kāore, kāore."

Hawke's Bay Regional councillor Neil Kirton fears the decision will do "enormous damage" to the council's reputation.

Hawke's Bay Regional councillor Neil Kirton fears the decision will do "enormous damage" to the council's reputation. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

Some councillors spoke against the decision to defer the payment, such as Neil Kirton.

"It's not tenable, it's not credible and if we proceed down this road, we do an enormous damage, not only across the region to the reputation of this council, we do so nation-wide," he said

Chairperson Rick Barker was not happy either.

"If we do no take this matter up, we are making a statement to every ratepayer, that if you've got a story to tell about why you think you've been unfairly treated, unfairly done by, you can default on your payment because we've set a precedent. Who's going to pay their rates in a situation if we give up on this?"

He noticed one payment that had not been made.

"One of the charges that remains unpaid is $82. This is not an enormous sum, this is a privately held equity company ... won't pay $82?"

Hawke's Bay Regional Council chairman Rick Barker believes ratepayers may be put off paying their rates due to this decision.

Hawke's Bay Regional Council chair Rick Barker says ratepayers may be put off paying their rates due to this decision. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

And the end of the meeting, Water Holdings majority shareholder Tim Gilbertson marched over angrily to the council leadership with cash in hand.

"I don't believe for a moment we owe you $80 but here's $100, keep the change, from Water Holdings," he told chief executive James Palmer.

"Well that's one way to collect the debt," Barker said.

One councillor called Gilbertson a "jerk".

Another suggested spending the cash at the bar.

Despite getting the deferral he asked for, Gilbertson said he was too upset to talk to RNZ after yesterday's meeting.

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