Massey University Associate Professor Christine Cheyne, in a guest post published on Sciblogs (HERE) discusses the recent Supreme Court rejection of a proposed land swap that would have flooded conservation land for the construction of the country’s largest irrigation dam.
The court was considering whether the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s investment arm could build a dam on 22 hectares of the protected Ruahine Forest Park in exchange for 170 hectares of private farm land.
The proposed dam is part of the $900 million Ruataniwha water storage and irrigation scheme.
The Government’s response to the ruling was to consider a law change to make land swaps easier.
Associate Professor Cheyne says the Supreme Court ruling has significant implications for the Ruataniwha dam.
“In addition, it asserts the importance of permanent protection of high-value conservation land. The ecological value of the Ruahine Forest Park land was never in question. The conservation land includes indigenous forest, a unique braided river and wetlands that would have been destroyed.
“The area is home to a dozen plants and animals that are classified as threatened or at risk. The developer’s ecological assessment acknowledged the destruction of ecologically significant land and water bodies. However, it argued that mitigation and offsetting would ensure that any effects of habitat loss were at an acceptable level.”
The guest post reviews what has happened and the need for the conservation of unique ecosystems and landscapes.
It also contains advice for the Government:
“Amending the Conservation Act to allow land swaps involves a significant discounting of the future in favour of present day citizens. This is disingenuous and an affront to constitutional democracy. It would weaken one of New Zealand’s few anticipatory governance mechanisms at a time when they are needed more than ever.”