Whanganui River iwi are hitting back at a regional councillor’s claims that they are holding up irrigation consents and say they are fed up with being wrongly accused of being a barrier to progress.
Horizons Regional councillor David Cotton said the consenting process for irrigation applications had experienced delays of up to three years because of iwi and Te Awa Tupua legislative framework, which established Whanganui River rights in law.
In an article in the Whanganui Chronicle, Cotton criticised the requirement for the council to consult with iwi on irrigation consent applications for rivers and streams in the Whanganui River catchment.
He said the long delays were because iwi were ill-equipped to play a role in consents and struggling with the workload.
Sheena Maru, the chair of river iwi entity Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui, said that was not the case.
“Whanganui iwi have an important role working with council on irrigation applications that involve taking water from the river, but there are no big delays there,” Maru said.
“We have checked with Horizons and we thank their senior staff for coming back to us really quickly to confirm that there are no outstanding consent applications seeking to extract water from the Whanganui River for irrigation.
“We are not sure where councillor Cotton is getting his information from, but we are tired of being wrongly accused of being a barrier to progress in our community.”
Maru said Ngā Tāngata Tiaki knew nothing of the claims until after the story was published and was disappointed at the decision to publish without checking the facts or speaking with iwi.
“We know how dangerous it can be to report opinion and misinformation as fact,” Maru said.
“The reality is iwi and hapū are working really hard to lead a new way for our community to view, care for and protect our natural resources through the Te Awa Tupua framework – and great things are happening.
“There is global interest in Te Awa Tupua and what iwi are trying to achieve in Whanganui. It’s a shame that some members of the local community cannot see the value of this approach.
“Last week we had an Australian member of parliament come to inquire in terms of supporting First Nations people to be able to look at some of the solutions for their rivers. Again, this is globally hot. Everyone’s looking at us and we’re locally attempting to support hapū, communities and those who serve us to work as part of this greater framework.”
In the article on Tuesday, Cotton said the issue was affecting the region’s economy because a number of businesses had deemed the consenting process for irrigation applications “too unpredictable” and had chosen not to invest in the area.
He suggested iwi should be consulted on criteria that mattered to them culturally and environmentally and allow Horizons to grant consents if they met those criteria.
Cotton’s comments came the day before the annual general meeting of Whanganui Federated Farmers. He said the issues would be central to discussion at the meeting.
“I’m certainly not talking about taking short cuts and I’m not talking about something that is to the detriment of their cultural and environmental values, but we can do a lot better in this space,” Cotton said in the article.
Horizons chair Rachel Keedwell said it was disappointing to have a Horizons regional councillor speculate on regulatory process without “a solid grasp of the facts”.
“There are good reasons why governance should steer clear of regulatory issues, and this is a case in point,” Keedwell said.
“Councillor David Cotton seemed to suggest Horizons’ consent processes relating to water takes in Whanganui were particularly complex as a result of the Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act.
“Councillor Cotton claimed that there are an unknown number of irrigations consents that had been unduly held up because of the status of the awa. This is factually incorrect.
“To set the record straight, Horizons currently has no long-standing applications to take water for irrigation that relate to the Whanganui River.”
Keedwell said Horizons had a constructive relationship with hapū, iwi and Ngā Tāngata Tiaki through Te Awa Tupua and had worked closely on significant consent issues that affect the river, such as the Whanganui Port revitalisation project Te Pūwaha.
“Horizons has successfully worked through numerous consent applications since Te Awa Tupua came into legalisation and has, and will continue to, invest in additional capacity for our regulatory functions in the Whanganui Catchment.
“There are two water take consents that are being considered in the general Whanganui area that do not relate to the river, they concern groundwater. These are not subject to Te Awa Tupua considerations and are following a standard Resource Management Act process, neither of which have spanned the three years councillor Cotton suggests.”
Keedwell said Cotton had not raised with the council or staff any perceived impediments to the ability to establish businesses in the area as a result of water take consents.
“Horizons is hugely supportive of Te Awa Tupua,” Keedwell said.
“We also work with new and existing businesses in Whanganui and across the region to not only ensure that our ecosystems are healthy but that our economy is thriving.”
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.