Māori concerns debated in water bottling consents appeal

DAVID WALKER/Stuff
Thousands of people took to the streets in Christchurch in March 2019 to protest against a Canterbury water bottling plant.

Māori opposed to Christchurch water being bottled and exported seem to have made some headway in the Court of Appeal.

Environment Canterbury (ECan) and two water bottling companies faced repeated questions at a court hearing on Monday about the way concerns of Ngāi Tūāhuriri Rūnanga were taken into account in a resource consent process.

Ngāi Tūāhuriri Rūnanga was not a party to the case but was allowed to make submissions at Aotearoa Water Action’s appeal against a High Court decision that confirmed the consents.

The water action group was set up challenge the consents, and said ECan did not follow the proper process.

READ MORE:
* Appeals against water bottling consents confront Environment Canterbury processes
* North Canterbury residents boiling over water bottling 'opportunity'
* Water bottling industry to face fresh scrutiny under plan to ban new ventures

In a High Court decision in July 2020, Justice Gerald Nation​ dismissed challenges to the way ECan approved applications of water bottlers Cloud Ocean Water and Rapaki Natural Resources.

The judge also said ECan made no error in considering and dealing with the interests of tangata whenua.The court was not asked to decide, and could not decide, whether it was right for New Zealand water to be bottled and sold overseas, he said.

Cloud Ocean bottled water from Christchurch displayed in a Chinese shopping mall, selling for about NZ55c. (File photo)
AMANDA CROPP/Stuff
Cloud Ocean bottled water from Christchurch displayed in a Chinese shopping mall, selling for about NZ55c. (File photo)

At an earlier hearing, the lawyer for the iwi said they were especially concerned that water was leaving their area.

A lawyer for ECan said iwi concerns about water being removed from the area had changed since the the Canterbury regional council processed the resource consents in 2017.

But one of the three Court of Appeal judges, Justice Mark Cooper, on Monday said that if tangata whenua were concerned water was being bottled and leaving the rohe (area), it was an issue potentially relevant to consider.

Philip Maw, representing ECan, said it should have been raised at the time ECan considered the applications.

Maw defended the way ECan advised local iwi of the applications, and took into account issues it thought would concern local Māori.

The Court of Appeal has been told there is a dispute about the way the iwi was advised of the application, and whether the notice of the applications went to the correct person.

The Court of Appeal on Monday reserved its decision on Aotearoa Water Action’s appeal. The hearing began on August 17 but the Covid lockdown delayed the second part of the hearing.

Water bottled by Cloud Ocean at its Christchurch plant. (File photo)
David Walker/Stuff
Water bottled by Cloud Ocean at its Christchurch plant. (File photo)

He ruled that, in dealing with the resource consent applications of water bottlers Cloud Ocean Water and Rapaki Natural Resources, ECan had not made any error that could be reviewed in court.

The judge also said ECan made no error in considering and dealing with the interests of tangata whenua.

The water bottling companies don’t pay for the water taken from aquifers beneath Christchurch. Those opposed to the process have taken their complaints to the streets as well as the court.

Cloud Ocean and Rapaki bought sites, previously used as a meat works and a wool scourer, that had decades-old consents to take water attached. ECan approved bottling the water.

In the High Court Justice Gerald Nation dismissed the challenge to the consent application process. (File photo)
John Kirk-Anderson/Stuff
In the High Court Justice Gerald Nation dismissed the challenge to the consent application process. (File photo)

Cloud Ocean’s lawyer, William McCartney​ said it did not need more water than the previous consent holders. ECan made the proper inquiries and approved the applications under a “perfectly legitimate process”.

He said he could not see it was a benefit to return contaminated water to the area, rather than take clean water away.

Justice Cooper said that was a difference of world view that had to be accommodated.

McCartney said it was an issue just raised now, four years after iwi were asked for their view. It was impossible for ECan to know what objections might arise years down the track.

The iwi submissions were part of a wider political push in relation to water generally and the appeal was not the right forum for them, he said.

Rapaki’s lawyer, Ewan Chapman​, said ECan had used the standard method for obtaining iwi comment.

The iwi view at the time aspired to having a property interest in water and everyone was clear that was not an issue for the appeal hearing, he said.

Almost every water use consent resulted in water leaving the takiwa (region) in some form. The previous consent holders disposed of contaminated water via an ocean outfall, so the water left the area then too.

The court has also been asked to decide if ECan should have considered the effect of plastic pollution, whether in New Zealand or overseas, from bottling water in plastic. ECan’s stance was that the issue was “too remote” from the water consent applications to be part of ECan’s role.