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RE: Huia Water Treatment Plant Appeals Settled

After 7.5 years of communication with Watercare regarding the location of a replacement water treatment plant in the west Auckland suburb of Titirangi, the two main parties running Environment Court appeals of the consents issued by Auckland Council have concluded their appeal actions and settled their cases.

The long running battle has resulted in an agreement between all the parties that will enable the water treatment plant to be built in Titirangi, but with far greater controls on how that will take place than the original Auckland Council consents would have permitted.

While none of the appeal parties are happy that the water treatment plant will be built in Titirangi, with the loss of 3.6 ha of native bush, all parties have recognised that further court action would have been a high risk strategy and not necessarily delivered the tighter controls that have been achieved in the prolonged mediation process.

The ecological compensation package has also been increased from the $5m over 10 years originally proposed by Watercare, to $8.2m over 25 years. The investment of these funds in ecological improvements off-site has been calculated by the ecology experts to deliver benefits in excess of those that will be lost on the site and required by the Resource Management Act. In addition, all of the money will be provided at the start of the project to a community trust to manage the work and the interest from the bulk payment will be used to fund additional environmental enhancement work to directly benefit the community downstream of the plant and within the catchment of the three water treatment plants that will now be in Waima/Woodlands Park.

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The proposed treatment plant site is contaminated with Phytophthora agathidicida, the pathogen that causes kauri dieback disease, and therefore the prevention of any soil and water from leaving the site during construction was the priority for The Tree Council in developing environmentally protective consent conditions. Watercare were initially reluctant to accept that their proposals were inadequate to control the pathogen, but the internationally renowned experts engaged by both sides have worked extremely hard to reach agreement on a vastly enhanced control package. The outcomes and principles enshrined in the agreed consent conditions will be a world first for control of the pathogen on a contaminated site of this scale and will set a legal precedent for best practice for all future developments in Phytophthora contaminated soil.

“Our experts have developed conditions that give us confidence that the pathogen can be prevented from leaving the site, provided they are implemented effectively with a robust monitoring and audit regime” said The Tree Council’s Secretary Dr Mels Barton.

“The consent conditions require an expert review panel to work with Watercare to develop detailed plans and procedures for exactly how the work will take place, so we can be assured that those regimes will be able to meet the tight conditions we have agreed must be in place. This has been a long and difficult journey and novel treatment methods and approaches have been developed specifically for this site. This approach has developed best practice for the management and regulation of this pathogen in future, which is a huge achievement, but the work continues and all parties will be involved in the detailed planning going forward.”

Titirangi Protection Group Chair Megan Fitter said “We recognise this has been a trying experience over a long period of time, and it was with a very heavy heart that we accepted the need to conclude our legal avenues. We remain concerned about the scale of the project, its impact on roads and cost to Auckland ratepayers. We do however take comfort in the fact that there are still some hoops for Watercare to go through including the geotechnical surveys, MPI approvals and last, but certainly not least, the considerable layers of compliance to be implemented with the rigours of an expert peer review panel. It’s been an immense effort, but absolutely necessary in our opinion – in 2017 the plan was for the WTP to be operational by now, and that’s several years of respite for our natural world and also time to forge new alliances and friendships. While the protection of kauri is not guaranteed by any plan, we know the world class team assembled gives it the best chance possible in the circumstances.”

Both The Tree Council and the Titirangi Protection Group want to thank the Titirangi community, their members and supporters for their patience and donations that have enabled this case to be run and Watercare held to account. Without the diligence of these community organisations the outcome for the community and the environment would have been far worse. Both organisations will continue to participate in a reconvened Community Liaison Group with Watercare, to ensure that the community’s voice and concerns continue to be heard.

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