Selwyn likely to lend $5.1m for irrigation plans

MICHAEL BERRY
Last updated 08:06 09/05/2012

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The Selwyn District Council is likely to give the Central Plains Water scheme a leg-up with a $5.1 million loan for the design of the $105m first stage.

The scheme is creeping toward cementing its resource consents, more than 11 years after first proposing the irrigation plan.

Central Plains Water (CPW) general manager Derek Crombie said the company was grinding its way through the resource management process and the end was definitely in sight.

The complicated scheme involves 92 different resource consents and is broadly estimated to cost $400m.

Crombie is an engineer and said it was refreshing to work on something other than assessing damage and knocking down buildings.

"It's the start of the new Canterbury, if you like. This is something that's real economic growth, not earthquake-related."

The consent hearings were held in 2008, and the scheme was given consent in May 2010, however 10 opponents appealed against the decision to the Environment Court.

Rather than go through the whole case again in court, CPW has spent the last couple of years working with appellants to find compromises to get the appeals withdrawn.

Most were by farmers who wanted the scheme's headrace canal relocated.

The appeals had all been sorted out and the agreements were now being put to paper, if they haven't already been signed. off already.

"It would have been simple if it hadn't been for the two earthquakes," Crombie said. "What should have taken six months has taken us 22 months and we're still not there."

Crombie expected CPW would have the consents it needed by the middle of the year, allowing it to get into detailed design of the project's first stage.

That planning, for the irrigation network which will initially service 20,000 hectares of farmland north of the Rakaia River with surface water, would be paid for by a $5.1m loan from the Selwyn District Council.

The loan is yet to be confirmed, but the council says in its draft long-term plan that it has agreed in principle as the scheme will significantly increase agricultural output and increase the region's jobs.

Construction of the $105m first stage was hoped to start early next year and be finished in 2014, but that was dependent on getting the consents, Crombie said.

The scheme would give farmers on the Plains a more sustainable water supply compared with the water from deep aquifers, Crombie said.

Trust Power's Lake Coleridge water storage scheme would be part of the overall irrigation project, storing water in the winter to sell to irrigators in the summer, he said.

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To build the project, CPW will have to raise funds from its shareholders, investors and lenders. The full scheme will service 60,000ha and is expected to add about 1100 jobs to the region and boost the region's economy by more than $1 billion annually.

- The Press

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