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Ruataniwha land swap to be reconsidered

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 30/08/2016

The Court of Appeal has ordered the Director-General of Conservation Lou Sanson to reconsider the land swap decision that would allow Hawke's Bay's controversial Ruataniwha irrigation scheme to go ahead.

The Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society has won its appeal against the swap, with the court declaring on Wednesday that the director-general was not entitled to make the "unlawful" decision to revoke land protections on the grounds considered.

It's a major victory of New Zealand's specially protected lands, their lawyer Sally Gepp said.

The proposed dam project across the Makaroro River would capture and store about 900 million cubic metres of water, allowing up to 30,000 hectares of land to be irrigated.

But it would require flooding of 22ha of the Ruahine Forest Park, which is subject to protection.

The Hawke's Bay Regional Council proposed to exchange the land for a 1270 hectare area of farming land known as Smedley Block, which was agreed conditional on approval from the Department of Conservation.

The special conservation status over part of the Ruahine Forest Park was revoked to make way for the proposed Ruataniwha dam.

But the court has now ordered the decision be set aside and a new application for revoking protection status be considered.

Forest & Bird had argued that a decision to revoke the land's protected status must relate to its value, not whether it will result in net gain.

"The decision is a major victory of New Zealand's natural environment, and Forest & Bird is proud to have played a significant part in bringing it about," Ms Gepp said, adding that members and supporters were thrilled with the outcome.

DoC said they wouldn't be commenting on the decision.

The majority of the Court of Appeal found the director-general did not inquire why the 22ha should lose conservation status when its characteristics remain unchanged and was "otherwise deserving of protection and preservation", or whether it should be protected for future generations.

"Further, 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.

The judges said the decision was made for the "sole purpose of expediting the proposed exchange".

Meanwhile Greenpeace spokeswoman Genevieve Toop, who said the group will use Hawke's Bay Regional Council's meeting on Wednesday to again oppose the entire Ruataniwha project, described the decision as "another huge blow" for the council.

"The writing's on the wall for a scheme that should never have been put on the table in the first place," she said.

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