Massey University academics will continue to offer their opinions on the controversial Ruataniwha water storage scheme, independently, and aside from the institution's new partnership with the dam's promoter, Hawke's Bay Regional Council.
The university and the council signed a memorandum of understanding which would allow options, to research, monitor and manage the social and economic impacts of the irrigation scheme proposed for the Ruataniwha Plains.
Massey University vice-chancellor Steve Maharey was at the regional council's Napier office to sign the memorandum yesterday where he gave assurances academics could continue to share their opinions of the dam project with the public.
"We have to be autonomous because we are a university and that's what is expected of us. We have had staff members who have spoken in favour of the dam and others who have [been] opposed to it.
"I regularly get phone calls from the public saying they take exception to something one of our staff have said, that's across everything."
Mr Maharey said it was not the university's job to tell the regional council what it should do but Massey would give advice, as per its memorandum.
"There is a lot of interest in the irrigation project, more and more staff are being asked to comment on it. But it is up to the council to run the council."
Mr Maharey, a high-profile former Labour Government MP, said Massey's partnership with the regional council was the first of its kind in New Zealand although the university was about to sign a similar partnership in Taranaki.
The Hawke's Bay partnership was prompted in part by a working party set up in July to ensure communities could generate the most out of the dam, if it should proceed. The party asked for the regional council and Central Hawke's Bay District Council to agree to a memorandum of understanding to work together to monitor the social and economic impacts of the dam. The university is now the third signature.
Mr Maharey said many Massey students were already working on their MA and PHD qualifications in Hawke's Bay and the irrigation scheme would be a high profile subject for many to research.
"Some may decide to study it, as something useful and their results could really make a difference."
He also indicated the agreement could be expanded to other areas with the regional council other than the dam.
"Massey University is the closest university to the Bay and a few years ago we asked the regional council what their research needs were and how we could assist.
"We have talked about setting up a campus here but those are expensive things to set up and we feel it is far better to establish a relationship than do that."