A challenge to a Chinese water bottling giant's plan to produce and fill a billion bottles of water from a Whakatāne aquifer each year has made it to the country's second-highest court, as a local iwi continues its quest to have the plans scrapped.
Creswell NZ, a subsidiary of multi-billion-dollar Chinese water bottling giant Nungfu Spring, was granted consent by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council in 2018 to bottle water from the Otakiri Aquifer.
However, the issue of consent has been consistently challenged by local iwi Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa, which says that the bottling activity would significantly damage the mauri, or life force, of the water which holds special significance to the iwi.
The iwi previously challenged Bay of Plenty Regional Council's issuing of the consent in cases taken to both the High Court and Environment Court - both of which were unsuccessful, although the judgment of the latter challenge was split two to one.
However, the group was granted leave for a third challenge, being heard in the Court of Appeal this week. That challenge is again seeking the court to overturn the consent granted by the council to Creswell.
A local community group, Sustainable Otakiri, which was established for the purpose of challenging the water bottling plans, has also joined Te Rūnanga in challenging the consent in the court.
The groups' case rests on a variety of claims, including that the authority issuing the consent didn't adequately consider the environmental effect of plastic bottles.
The groups also claim that the Environment Court didn't pay enough consideration to the environmental effects of the activity, and should have sought further evidence.
The significance of wai to Māori is also a key aspect of the claim, as well as the iwi's guardianship of the area.
In her opening statement, Counsel acting for Te Rūnanga Ella-Rose Kini told the court that the basis of the claim rested on the belief of "he taonga tuku iho te wai", a loose translation of "water is an inherited treasure".
However, the company at the centre of the bottling plans has previously said it has attempted to engage with the iwi around its plans.
That included offering Ngāti Awa a shared-governance role in the operation of the plant so they can undertake their cultural kaitiaki, or guardianship responsibilities.
The company also noted both China and New Zealand's commitment to end single-use plastic by 2025. The plant is not expected to become operational until 2027.
The case is expected to wrap up by the end of the week.
- by Ethan Griffiths, Open Justice