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Coping with the dry .. The Hurunui Water Project will store water for shareholders to use during dry periods on their properties. This image shows Brandon Downs, from Masons Flat, looking toward Mt Tekoa.PHOTO: SUPPLIED

 

By ROBYN BRISTOW

Hurunui District councillors remain hesitant to give the nod to using ratepayers funds to buy $500,000 of shares in the Hurunui Water Project.

They have delayed their decision again.

This follows councillors receiving assurances from officers that due diligence of the proposal had found no “impediment” to the council buying the shares.

Debate over the proposed share purchase has been going on since June, when the council set aside $500,000 in its annual plan to buy them.

More than 100 submission were received to the proposal – 62 opposed to the investment and 40 in favour.

Councillors called for due diligence to be carried out on the proposed buy up in July, with some concerned about investing public money in a private scheme and worried about the “risk” in investing in irrigation infrastructure.

Others, however, believed it would be an investment in economic development and water security, both of which would benefit the wider district.

Council chief executive Hamish Dobbie said this week that councillors wanted to look at the “more detailed” information which its officers had accessed when they carried out a comprehensive appraisal of the business.

Officers in a report to the council say a confidentiality agreement had been signed to access Hurunui Water Project information, some of which was “not in the public domain”.

However, Mr Dobbie says he thinks officers will be “able to provide” the information councillors require to make a decision.

He says councillors are aware of the “huge interest” in the council’s decision and wanted the information to help them to “make the right decision”. He stresses that if a decision is made to go ahead with the purchase, a further round of consultation will take place before a final decision is made.

Previously, Mr Dobbie said due diligence would give the council a better understanding of the environmental impacts of the proposed 20,000ha scheme, whether it was a proper use of rates under legislation, where the money would be spent, what contracts were in place, the share structure, the market for shares, and the exit points should the council invest.

He said a legal opinion was needed as the share structure would need to change to reflect that the shares did not carry water rights and work would also be needed to reflect it was a 20,000ha scheme, rather than the 60,000ha one originally touted.

The scheme is aimed at drought-proofing farming businesses, allowing them to diversify and boost regional production, increasing farm incomes and jobs.

It has been in the pipeline for more than a decade, with many farmers backing the project by taking up shares in the company, which has helped it to the consent stage.

Mr Dobbie said in July investing in the project could be a way the council could support the largest industry in the district, which was difficult any other way due to farmland being privately owned.