Supreme Court deals blow to Ruataniwha dam project, New Zealand

19 July 2017

Plans to develop the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme in Hawke's Bay, New Zealand, have been dealt a major blow with news that the Supreme Court has ruled that land that would be affected by the scheme should retain conservation status.

In a majority 3-2 ruling, the Court upheld a previous ruling from the Court of Appeal that a previous decision by the Department of Conservation’s Director-General revoking the conservation status should be overturned, effectively blocking development of the project.

In a statement, the Supreme Court said the majority Judges agreed with the Court of Appeal that the Director-General acted unlawfully in revoking conservation park status for the land on the basis of the test for exchange under s 16A, which authorises exchange of stewardship land. They have affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeal that revocation under s 18(7) is permitted only where the conservation values in the subject land no longer warrant continued special protection. That was not the approach taken by the Director-General and so the revocation decision was rightly set aside by the Court of Appeal, it said.

The Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme is described as a long-term sustainable water supply solution for Central Hawke’s Bay. It is part of a wider programme to better manage water resources in the Tukituki Catchment.

The scheme was to consist of a 93 million m³ storage reservoir located in the upper Makaroro river, storing water during periods of high flow and over winter. Water from the scheme can then be released improving river flows in the Tukituki Catchment through summer for river life and other river users, while at the same time providing secure water to irrigators. The scheme was planned to be funded by both the public and private sector.

In response to the ruling, Hawke's Bay Regional Council’s Environment & Service Committee said it is seeking advice from Investment Company HBRIC Ltd on the merits, or otherwise, of further investment in the scheme.

The Committee is requesting HBRIC Ltd advise the Council of any steps still available to progress the scheme, although the committee has made it clear it does not support obtaining the DOC land under the Public Works Act. The Committee is also asking HBRIC Ltd to outline the implications of the Council shelving the Ruataniwha Scheme, so that Council can consider whether to remove the remaining $60 million allocation for the Scheme from the next Long Term Plan.

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