Judge off hearing into water

MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD
Last updated 09:46 13/11/2012

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Environment Court judge Jon Jackson has stood down from an Upper Waitaki water hearings case, after an appellant raised questions about his past involvement with Forest & Bird.

The memorandum was issued at the end of last week, and a replacement judge is yet to be appointed.

Judge Jackson was overseeing appeals on Environment Canterbury's consent decisions in the Upper Waitaki, most of which revolve around taking water.

Earlier this year, an ECan-appointed hearings panel granted Simons Hill Station and neighbouring property Simons Pass Station the right to take water from the Tekapo Canal and Lake Pukaki to irrigate a combined 4800 hectares.

Forest & Bird appealed the decision, as it was worried about its effect on the environment. However, Simons Pass believed that Judge Jackson's involvement in the hearings amounted to a conflict of interest. Judge Jackson was honorary president of Forest & Bird from 1994 to 1996, but cut all official ties when he became an Environment Court judge.

Simons Pass' counsel argued that Forest & Bird had a long history of advocacy in the Mackenzie Country, and was "heavily involved in presenting information at council hearings on the proposed (and now operative) Mackenzie and Waitaki district plans".

Judge Jackson said that as the Waitaki District Plan went out for public consultation after his Environment Court appointment, he considered the link "fairly tenuous". Yet he accepted a lay person could potentially detect bias in the Simons Pass appeal, "because these proceedings concern such amorphous and subjective matters as perception of a landscape".

Judge Jackson has excused himself from the hearings, and about half a dozen other Upper Waitaki consent hearings yet to be heard.

Judge Jackson has already released an interim decision on the Mackenzie District Council's "Plan Change 13", which declared the basin an outstanding natural landscape. He will continue to oversee hearings on the plan change, but said he would likely have to refuse leave to Forest & Bird to join these proceedings as it was already "so far down the track".

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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