Ngāti Awa wins right to appeal billion-bottles-per-year water plant expansion

3:28 pm on 18 April 2023

First published on Open Justice by NZ Herald

Bottled Water

File image. Photo: (Flickr user Steven Depolo CC BY 2.0)

An iwi has won the right to appeal a Chinese-owned water bottling plant's plans to expand its facility and fill nearly a billion bottles from an aquifer in Whakatāne every year.

Creswell NZ, a subsidiary of multi-billion dollar Chinese water bottling giant Nongfu Spring, was granted consent by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council in 2018 to bottle water from the Ōtākiri Aquifer.

However, the issue of consent has been consistently challenged by local iwi Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa, which claims the bottling activity would significantly damage the mauri, or life force, of the water which holds special significance to the iwi.

The iwi previously challenged Bay of Plenty Regional Council's issuing of the consent in cases taken to both the High Court and Environment Court - both of which were unsuccessful.

A local community group, Sustainable Ōtākiri, established to challenge the water bottling plans, joined Ngāti Awa and in March last year they took their fight to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the High Court decision and dismissed the appeal.

The group's case rests on a variety of claims, including that the authority issuing the consent did not adequately consider the environmental effect of plastic bottles.

The group also claim the Environment Court did not pay enough consideration to the environmental effects of the activity, and should have sought further evidence.

In a decision released by the Supreme Court today, Ngāti Awa and Sustainable Ōtākiri were granted leave to appeal the Court of Appeal's decision.

The iwi were also granted leave to appeal against the High Court's decision not to consider the negative effects the bottling plant would have on Tikanga.

However, the company at the centre of the bottling plans has previously said it has attempted to engage with the iwi around its plans.

That included offering Ngāti Awa a shared-governance role in the operation of the plant so they can undertake their cultural kaitiaki or guardianship responsibilities.

The company also noted both China and New Zealand's commitment to end single-use plastic by 2025. The plant is not expected to become operational until 2027.

Sustainable Ōtāriki chairwoman Maureen O'Kane said the Supreme Court had recognised the consent was an important public issue.

"We have a strong nationwide and expat following that wants to see New Zealand start to take a more active role in questioning how we contribute to the worldwide plastic pollution problem as well as ensuring we are guarding our most precious water resources for future generations," she said in a statement.

Creswell NZ managing director Michael Gleissner told the Herald last year further court action was "disappointing" as the case had already been listened to and considered three times by the courts.

"I'm surprised that they are throwing good money after bad," he said.

"Throughout the whole process we have looked to engage with them and offer solutions to alleviate their concerns," he said at the time.

He said had Sustainable Ōtākiri engaged with Creswell NZ it would have found that all plastic used was recycled.

However, as most of the water would be used for high-end restaurants, it would mainly be packaged in glass.

The water would be sold in New Zealand, China, the Middle East and Europe.

*This story originally appeared on the New Zealand Herald.

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