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Ruataniwha dam ruling appealed

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 28/09/2016

The legal battle over whether part of a protected forest park can be used in a land swap deal that would allow Hawke's Bay's controversial Ruataniwha irrigation scheme to go ahead is set for another hearing.

The Department of Conservation and the company behind the $275 million project are seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court a decision last month which ordered the land exchange deal to be reconsidered.

The Court of Appeal ordered the Director-General of Conservation Lou Sanson to revisit the deal which would have swapped 22 hectares of the Ruahine Forest Park for 1270ha area of farming land known as Smedley Block.

The conservation land was to be flooded as part of the proposed dam project across the Makaroro River that would capture and store about 900 million cubic metres of water, allowing up to 30,000ha of land to be irrigated.

Forest & Bird had appealed against a High Court ruling which upheld the decision to revoke the land from the 94,000ha forest park.

It said if the appeal to the Supreme Court was successful it could open the way for the loss of other protected land.

"If it goes ahead, this land swap will set a precedent for up to 1 million hectares of specially protected conservation land, creating the possibility that these areas can be reclassified and destroyed," said acting chief executive Mike Kotlyar.

The Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company, the council-controlled organisation behind the dam, is also seeking leave to appeal and says it believes the land exchange would would provide significant enhancements to the conservation values of the area.

The Court of Appeal ordered the decision to revoke the special conservation status over part of the Ruahine Forest Park to be set aside and a new application be considered.

"To allow the director-general's decision would be to permit the territorial erosion of former forest parks in a way which defeats the statutory presumption of preservation and protection effected by the transitional provisions under (the legislation)," the court said.

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