Canterbury irrigation project applies for land-buying powers, worrying local farmers
The developers of a large Canterbury irrigation project have applied for compulsory acquisition powers, breaking a promise they made to local farmers in 2013.
The Hurunui Water Project (HWP), a proposed irrigation scheme for 21,000 hectares of land in North Canterbury, has applied to the Government for the power to acquire land without the owner's permission.
The move has worried a group of about 20 local farmers whose land could be impacted by infrastructure needed for the irrigation project. They also claim it goes back on a promise HWP executives made in 2013.
The Ministry for the Environment confirmed HWP applied for the requiring authority in May.
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The authority would give HWP a range of planning powers, including the power to buy land without the owner's permission through the Minister of Land Information.
The company would first have to show that all reasonable steps had been taken to purchase the land voluntarily.
Environment Minister Nick Smith will make the final decision on whether to grant HWP the requiring authority, but there is no deadline for the decision.
According to minutes of a meeting of the Peaks/Upper Waitohi Community Group on October 16, 2013, two HWP executives "repeatedly stated that HWP will not be seeking requiring authority".
HWP chief executive Chris Pile said compulsory purchase powers would be used only if a small landholder attempted to block the project.
"We will be seeking debt funding to fund the build of this project. Having a requiring authority status is one of the things that the banks require," he said.
"The very last thing my shareholders will want to do is compulsorily acquire land. For the greater good of the community, if there happened to be a small piece of land that a party was holding out on unreasonably that might have to happen."
Farmer Kevin Earl runs an irrigated 280-hectare dairy farm on the banks of the Hurunui River. He has owned the farm for 23 years and his family has farmed in the region since the 1800s.
He says the proposed intake and water race for the new irrigation scheme could run across his property and past his home. He is worried local farmers may not be properly compensated if land is purchased without permission.
"I am not against irrigation; I am against getting my farm burgled by the requiring authority," he said.
"It gives them a big baseball bat and what have I got?
"It could impact us badly. We are worried we will never be adequately compensated. I have built up a farm over a number of years and I am not going to take it lying down."
Farmer David Fincham is chairman of the Upper Waitohi Landowners Association, which represents farmers who may be impacted by infrastructure for the irrigation scheme. He runs a 300ha sheep, beef and crops farm near the Waitohi River.
He said the application for a requiring authority had worried some farmers.
"A requiring authority can be a pretty brutal instrument and it is something that people are scared of. It will be brutal on people who don't understand how it works.
"It is reasonable if it used fairly and transparently. Our understanding of the Hurunui Water Project doesn't lead us to believe that they will use it in a good way.
"We live in a community and we know irrigation would be good for people, but we want to make sure no one is disadvantaged and it is good for everyone," he said.
A spokeswoman for Smith said only the ministry would comment on the issue.
In June, Smith granted requiring authority for the Hunter Downs irrigation project in south Canterbury.
Greenpeace campaigner Genevieve Topp was critical of the HWP application.
"Not only does this company want to take water from our rivers and exploit it for private profit they are now also seeking to forcibly take people's land too," she said.