40,000 urge council to drop Ashburton water deal

Bung the Bore founder Jen Branje delivers the group's submission against the proposed water-bottling plant in Ashburton ...
HELENA O'NEILL/FAIRFAX NZ

Bung the Bore founder Jen Branje delivers the group's submission against the proposed water-bottling plant in Ashburton to the Ashburton District Council on Thursday.

More than 40,000 people have signed a petition urging the Ashburton District Council to abandon plans to sell Lot 9 of its business estate.

The site comes with a valuable resource consent allowing the owner to extract 1.4 billion litres of water a year from aquifers beneath the town, and has attracted vocal opposition from some residents.

Bung the Bore action group founder Jen Branje presented a seven-page document to councillors at its meeting on Thursday, outlining eight main concerns about the proposed sale.

Groundwater was at a 66-year low and gifting water resources for bottling was "an ill-considered proposal", she said.

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The group would start legal proceedings if council had not agreed to abandon the consent by July 30.

"The time to stop this deal is now. The decision is in your hands," Branje said.

Her submission was greeted by applause and cheers from the public gallery, where about 60 people gathered.

Councillors asked questions about Branje's submission, but held no discussion during the open meeting.

Cr Neil Brown asked if the group would be happy for the council to sell Lot 9 without the water consent. Branje said there would be no opposition to the sale of the land itself.

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Cr Ken Cutforth presented the petition to council on behalf of Actionstation. 

"I hope it does have a positive impact on the decision," he said.

NZ Pure Blue is negotiating with the Ashburton District Council to buy Lot 9 of its business estate for an undisclosed sum.

A back-up buyer has approached the council with an offer. The council has kept details of the deal under wraps, citing commercial sensitivity.

The sale was expected to conclude in June, but has been pushed back until the end of September so the buyer could arrange to move Ashburton's railway shunting yards closer to the business estate.

Green Party fresh water spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty said Canterbury was in the middle of a water crisis with rivers running low, polluted bore water and water restrictions in some areas.

"Yet here's a council selling the right to extract 40 billion litres of artesian water to bottle and sell," she said.

It was unfair that locals had to restrict water use and "put up with" polluted water while pristine water further down the road was bottled for profit.

 - Stuff

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