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Botched process for Project Aqua needs fixing

National: botched process for Project Aqua needs fixing

The Government has made a complete botch of the decision making process for New Zealand's largest hydro-electric development in over 30 years and National is committed to fixing it, says National's Environment Spokesman, Dr Nick Smith.

"It is a farce that today public submissions on Project Aqua will close yet the criteria and process for considering the six dam scheme has not been determined. How can submitters be expected to put forward their case when they don't yet know the rules under which the project will be considered?

"The Environment Minister has also put the cart before the horse by seeking nominations for the Board of Inquiry before the criteria for the appointment process has been published.

"These decisions will affect the Waitaki River, New Zealand's fourth largest river, for centuries and deserve a far more robust process than this.

"A rushed decision will be a poor decision," says Dr Smith.

National wants three key changes made to the decision making process to ensure the right decision is made on Project Aqua:

1. The criteria under the Resource Management Act for Project Aqua must be the same as for any other river in any other part of New Zealand.

(The special legislation alters the criteria to require greater emphasis to be given to national benefits).

2. The decision making body must be truly independent of Ministers who, as Meridian Energy shareholders, have a clear conflict of interest.

(The special legislation sees the Commissioners and Board appointed by the Minister and serving at her pleasure).

3. Appeal rights to the Environment Court on Project Aqua should be the same as for any other resource consent.

(The special legislation truncates appeal rights, on the basis of saving time)

It is hypocritical of this Government to tell farmers and small businesses that they must comply with every hurdle of the Resource Management Act, but when it's own SOE proposes a huge development, it rewrites the rules to suit itself," says Dr Smith.

"A sensible decision on Project Aqua also requires clear policies on the Kyoto Protocol and electricity.

"The Government is backing itself into a corner with it's promised carbon tax and confused electricity policy that makes Project Aqua the only alternative to meeting increased electricity demand.

"National's approach will allow alternatives and a far more robust decision making process," says Dr Smith.

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