New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax payer money to fund two water bottling companies but has refused to release the names or locations of the companies involved or what exactly the money was given to them for. It has confirmed one company is foreign owned.
Documents obtained by Aotearoa Water Action (AWA) under the Official Information Act also reveal that NZTE invited water bottling company Nongfu to visit New Zealand in April 2015. The company is seeking to significantly expand the existing Otakiri Spring bottling plant in the Bay of Plenty with strong public opposition. Documents out of Minister Parker’s Office state that Nongfu Spring’s project with Otakiri Spring is in the NZTE investment pipeline as a ‘significant project’.
Sustainable Otakiri, a neighbourhood group challenging the resource consent, is seeking to block the 16,800m2 plant which will take up to 1,100,000m3 of local water per year, discharge up to 450m3 of phosphorus-rich process water per day into a nearby stream and put another 202 truck and trailer units daily on the already dangerous road to Tauranga.
“It’s a shock to learn that Nongfu may have potentially been funded by the taxpayer to take our water,” says Maureen Fraser of Sustainable Otakiri. “It’s clear that the government and our local council have been pushing this deal and the industry for years and it’s all been done in the shadows. The lack of transparency around this is a big concern. We feel let down – by the government, Minister Sage and our local council.”
She says it is unbelievable that the government is willing to fund multi-million dollar water bottling companies yet has left community group Sustainable Otakiri to crowdfund its Environment Court appeal against a subsidiary of Nongfu after the Government’s Environmental Legal Assistance Fund (ELA) declined its application making it virtually impossible for the community to challenge the consents.
Peter Richardson of Aotearoa Water Action (AWA) says the Resource Management Act was designed to have public participation as a check and balance but the financial obstacles for people wanting to oppose decisions is prohibitive leaving communities vulnerable. AWA has set up a PledgeMe campaign to help assist Sustainable Otakiri’s appeal.
“If the Ministry won’t create good law to manage water allocation, won’t adequately oversee the implementation of the Act by local councils and won’t fund public participation then the necessary safeguards, checks and balances aren’t there and our environment is at risk.”