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Infrastructure Report - Irrigation

Today’s NZH has a supplement on Infrastructure that makes very interesting reading.

It has all the usual ‘gung-ho’ booster stories that while signed off by ‘Chiefs’ rather than ‘Indians,’ most of the stuff therein appears otherwise, and often comprises ideas floated from the far right that would never normally see the light of day.

There is nothing wrong with that; in fact they should be read if only to keep up to date with just how the ‘movers and shakers’ are thinking, and where the pressures on Government are likely to emerge in the future. Most of the fanfare is supportive of current Government policies, but nevertheless, the constant theme is to relax controls, reform the RMA, and centralise infrastructure decision-making.

There is gentle chiding of the central Government’s tendency to ‘move the goal-posts’ for local government, and the creation of a ‘dis-connect’ between central and local government in regard to large scale transport projects in particular.

Alternatives that are proposed all have an element of common sense that appears largely lacking in the infrastructure planning area, but the one article that attracted my attention was one written by a team of lawyers from Minter Ellison Rudd Watts, that appeared to promote their expertise in the irrigation area, and within their 1,000 words suggest improvements to the approach adopted by irrigation proponents.

What was staggering was the almost calculated absence of the word ‘environment’ in the entire article. It showed every which-way that the regulatory environment could be improved to enable long stalled projects to get under way, and how to enhance “project water quality, efficiency and productivity,” but not a single nod even to the equally important, some would say over-riding importance of dealing with the environmental effects of irrigation projects before rather than after projects are initiated.

This article alone indicates the limited capacity of those proposing giant, or far ranging infrastructure projects to take account of the environmental consequences of what is being proposed. It is this slavish devotion to the innate advantages of development at all costs that has led to the situation that we now face in regard to the quality of our rivers and estuaries.

I am not development Luddite, but I don’t mind admitting despair when I read of the determination of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council to ignore the independent Board of Inquiry on the Ruataniwha project, and proceed regardless despite being unable to anywhere near meet the basic water quality standards particularly nitrogen, that it imposed.

This has been done on the basis that somehow “technology will deal with the problem within the time scale laid down by the Board of Inquiry.” What is most dis-heartening is that it was the inquiry system that was established by Government to overcome the previous barriers to decision-making, including the Hauraki aquaculture proposal.  

The decision of the Board of Inquiry was made without DoC’s input as the result of ministerial interference by its then Minister – the unlamented Kate Wilkinson, but the current relevant Ministers – Dr Smith, and Mr Guy now prefer to sit on their hands and let the Council and its development company proceed with capital raising and construction without regard to the findings of the Board.  

Frankly, I am not too concerned if Hawke’s Bay rate-payers allow their Council to waste their money on what now appears to be an uneconomic project – I am far more concerned at another project being able to run regardless of the effect in this case on the Tukituki River that belongs along with all rivers to the entire country – something that appears to be acknowledged only in passing by irrigators.   

Irrigation boosters at Minter Ellison Rudd Watts need to be a little more mindful of the environment when pushing their self-interested views on this particular form of infrastructure, even when they perceive their audience as representing a like-minded section of the community to whom the environment is peripheral.  




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