Plan hearing adjourned in case of extra sitting

Possible changes to a Waitaki river water allocation plan are still up in the air after an Environment Canterbury hearing in Oamaru was adjourned this week.

A panel of three commissioners - retired Environment Court Judge Gordon Whiting, Andrew Fenemor and Edward Ellison - have spent seven days spread over eight weeks in Oamaru and Morven hearing submissions on changes to the 2006 Waitaki catchment water allocation regional plan.

Its last day was supposed to be Tuesday, but Mr Whiting has adjourned, rather than closed, the hearing, in case another days is needed in the future.

There has been no indication when the panel will deliver its decision.

It depends partly on a High Court decision which would affect one of the changes proposed - making it easier and guaranteeing renewal of the Waitaki electricity generation resource consents held by Meridian Energy and Genesis Energy.

The panel is also seeking written undertakings from Meridian Energy and irrigators, through the Waitaki Irrigators' Collective, guaranteeing they will agree to their consents being reviewed if changes are made to the water allocation plan.

As a result, Mr Whiting said, he was unable to close the hearing and adjourned it instead so it could continue if needed.

Once the High Court decision is released - and there is no indication when that might be - the panel will notify parties and give them the opportunity to make further submissions.

Those submissions will be restricted to the court's decision.

''Then, the panel can decide if it needs a hearing face-to-face or carry on and make its decisions,'' he said.

On Tuesday, Environment Canterbury, which is proposing the plan change, finished its presentation with its right of reply and answers to questions the commissioners had raised.

One of the issues was Meridian and irrigators saying in submissions they would agree to alter their resource consents to comply with the plan but that was conditional on all the changes being approved.

Mr Whiting said that was placing the panel in ''rather an unusual situation'' and ''effectively putting a gun to the panel's head''.

The panel needs a more substantive undertaking, otherwise it would have to give little weight to the agreement to have their consents changed.

He suggested Meridian and irrigators provide a written undertaking, ''sooner rather than later'', outlining their agreement to reviews and under what conditions.

The changes have been opposed by about 80% of more than 550 submissions, in particular lowering the minimum flow of the river at which water can be taken.

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