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Greens support rewritten Waitaki bill

Greens support rewritten Waitaki bill, but still oppose Project Aqua

The Green Party will be supporting legislation to manage the waters of the Waitaki River after achieving significant changes to the bill at the select committee stage.

The Resource Management (Waitaki Catchment) Amendment Bill was introduced to remedy the failure of the regional council to set an environmental flow regime and a water allocation framework for the river, ahead of increasing demands for water from irrigation and hydropower.

"We have managed to substantially rewrite the bill and are happy to support it in its current form," said Jeanette Fitzsimons, Green Party Co-Leader and chairperson of the Local Government and Environment Select Committee that has been reviewing the legislation.

"However I want to strongly assert that the Green Party's support for this bill this does not blunt our opposition to Project Aqua. Meridian Energy's plan to build a giant canal and take out 73 per cent of the river's water is still a bad idea for the ecology of the Waitaki and the future energy security of New Zealand.

"The changes we have achieved to the bill address almost all of the concerns that were widely held by submitters. We took the view that the bill should be consistent with the RMA wherever possible and this has been realised. The process is now more independent of the Minister and the ecological needs of the river are now clearly paramount. I am particularly pleased with the following recommendations of the committee."

* While the Minister for the Environment will still appoint the Board that sets the water allocation framework, she must now use defined skills criteria and will not be able to dismiss or direct them, meaning a more 'arms-length' relationship.

* The board will have up to a year to do its work, rather than 8 months, will have powers of enquiry, summons and cross examination and will have to justify its decisions in the usual way under S32.

* The relevant councils, and not the Minister, will now appoint the Panel of Commissioners that will consider the individual water-use applications.

* In keeping with the RMA, the national interest will no longer override local concerns and existing consents have no greater or lesser protection from change than under current law.

* Consistency with the Coastal Plan and with the whole of the RMA, except where amended by this Bill, has been clarified.

* Any suggestion that commercial use might override the "intrinsic and amenity values" of the river has been removed.

The one area of concern in the original bill that the Greens have not been able to amend is the reduced right of appeal to the Environment Court and they will seek to amend this when the Bill returns to the House.

"However in giving the Board and the Panel all the powers, status and skills of the Environment Court we believe we have done everything possible to ensure a high quality and fair hearing the first time round," said Ms Fitzsimons.

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