Concerns raised about Hawke's Bay firm given rights to sell Kiwi water overseas
A company whose directors are a convicted fraudster and a former bankrupt is the latest to gain permission to set up a bottling plant to sell Kiwi water overseas.
Hawke's Bay Regional Council has granted consent to Jess and Tae's Water Ltd to take and bottle up to 786 million litres a year from a Napier bore.
The firm says it hopes to have a bottling plant up and running within six months, and plans to target the Indian market.
But the background of its two Waikato-based directors – Tony Burrell and Robert Swetman – has sparked a call for all water bottling consents to be publicly notified by the council.
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Swetman was declared bankrupt in 2007 and last year another company he controls was caught up in a failed used tyre recycling venture that left Hamilton ratepayers with a $260,000 clean-up bill.
Burrell was jailed for three years in 2001 for his role in a $2.2 million housing scam.
The pair each own 47 per cent of Jess and Tae's Water which, in July, was granted permission to take water from a bore on an industrial property at Awatoto, south of Napier.
Consent had previously been granted, but was never exercised, to use water from the same bore for vegetable processing.
Tukituki Labour candidate Anna Lorck, who has been vocal on water issues, said the issuing of the consent – the region's tenth to a bottling company – highlighted the "poor process" the council worked under.
"Havelock North is recovering from 5000 people struck down by contaminated drinking water crisis, but at the same time we continue to give billions of litres of our water away for free to water exporters, which now include a convicted criminal and another who left a community high and dry with a quarter of a million dollar clean-up bill.
"This is what happens when all it takes is some paperwork behind the scenes. If this was done under the scrutiny of the public eye, I do not believe it would have happened."
Jess and Tae's Water chief executive John Guy said Swetman and Burrell had "amazing" business contacts.
The company was close to securing financing to build a bottling plant which it hoped to open within six months, he said.
Hawke's Bay Regional Council's group manager, resource management, Iain Maxwell said that, under the Resource Management Act, the people behind a company applying for a resource consent were not a factor that was considered when issuing a consent.
Before changing the previous vegetable production-based consent to one for water bottling, the council reviewed its conditions and concluded the environment impact of the water take would "not be more than minor".
Concern has previously been raised in Hawke's Bay that consents issued for new and proposed water bottling plants could put unsustainable pressure on the region's aquifers but the council says it always applies the "not be more than minor" impact test before issuing or renewing consents.
Guy said Jess and Tae's Water would not have the capacity to take anywhere near the full amount of water it was allowed under the consent.
"If we got to that point [of taking all the consented water], we'd be employing about 400 people."