Growers support 'green credentials'

By Patrick O'Sullivan

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Tom Belford is flanked by GAG members John Bostock (left) and Lou Crasborn. Mr Belford is one of the group's preferred Hawke's Bay Regional Council candidates. Photo / Duncan Brown
Tom Belford is flanked by GAG members John Bostock (left) and Lou Crasborn. Mr Belford is one of the group's preferred Hawke's Bay Regional Council candidates. Photo / Duncan Brown

Tom Belford's endorsement by the Growers Action Group (GAG) - disaffected growers campaigning to oust Hawke's Bay regional councillors in the upcoming elections - has surprised many.

Mr Belford, who was described recently by regional council chairman Fenton Wilson as a "wolf in sheep's clothing", is a founding member of Te Taio, a group the regional council says is advocating raising the Ngaruroro River's minimum flow from 2.4 cubic metres per second to 4.2.

GAG members are upset that the council stopped Twyford irrigation during the last drought to maintain the river's minimum flow level.

Mr Belford, owner and editor of BayBuzz magazine, said he was no wolf in sheep's clothing and that science would determine the minimal flow. "There is no person running for any election in Hawke's Bay who is more out there on the record with their views than I am," he said.

"Nobody can question that I have green credentials, but I am a reasonable person about it."

He said he became acquainted with growers through their support of BayBuzz and had invited major grower and GAG spokesman John Bostock to write articles about a GE-free Hawke's Bay.

"I think they are supporting me because they think I am a reasonable person and I would look at information with some objectivity, what the overall implications are and what are the best way to deal with them.

"If flows need to be increased, how to you go about doing that and do you create exceptional circumstances? I think one of the main bones of contention with this council is that it is rigid and kneejerk in its application of present rules without there being a real understanding of what's going on, with respect to that aquifer.

"They are prepared to make the argument that if you have a drought event, you should your have options in place to protect the stuff that's being grown out there. I think that ultimately the answer to that is going to be 'yes'. The current councillors have asked for an emergency report on options, when dealing more flexibly with water allocation or shortage issues, than we have done in the past.

"I would bet my bottom dollar the report will say, 'Oh yeah - there are things we could be doing differently', even under the current ground rules and maybe they should be reinforced in any future ground rules.

"I think what the growers are looking for are future councillors, including me if I'm one, to look at all of that with a clean slate and make a reasonable call about it."

If scientific advice said minimal river flow levels needed to be increased, they should be. "But how you implement that, the flexibility you provide for extreme circumstances and so on, is something that this council hasn't shown any interest in."

The upcoming urgent report would probably give "all sorts of innovative and imaginative solutions to what these growers are complaining about". "Then the staff will go on to say, if only they had come to us and dealt with us in good faith we could have worked these things out.

"Certainly the growers think there is a better mousetrap here, even within the confines of the Resource Management Act and that's what needs to be explored."

Mr Belford said Te Taio was part of a group devising management plans for the Tutaekuri, Ahuriri, Ngaruroro and Karamu catchments. "I was quite deliberately not made a stakeholder on that committee because I turned out to be too much of a pest on the Ruataniwha, so I don't really know what the factual situation is over here as far as flows."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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