With water bottling a hot top in the build up to the local government elections on Saturday, a Hawke's Bay regional councillor is pushing for all water bottling consents to be publicly notified.
Ngaruroro ward councillor Peter Beaven, who is standing for re-election, requested it be considered that delegations for resource consent applications for water bottling be brought back to council.
Currently, a number of RMA decision-making functions concerning this are delegated to staff, allowing for "prompt and timely processing of resource consent applications", a council report stated.
The delegations include determining whether an application should be processed as a non-notified, limited notified or a notified application
However Mr Beaven said this meant that all water bottling decisions around allowing water bottling, or changing an existing consent for bottling, had been made behind closed doors by council staff.
This lead to a huge amount of angst, and suspicion among the public as they had no say on the issue, he said.
"In the past two or three years we've seen that the Hawke's Bay public, they've woken up and suddenly unbeknownst to them... [there's] 5 million cubic m of water that's been granted for water bottling," he said.
"They never knew anything about it and they haven't had the chance to have a say about it either. I just think that's a really bad democratic process."
Given how controversial the issue had become, Mr Beaven said the decision needed to be made by council, so "if there's going to be heat from it then the heat needs to fall on us".
His request was discussed at a council meeting last week. He was overseas and could not attend.
A report to council stated there were a number of considerations when making the decision to notify a consent or not - including deciding that an activity would have, or was likely to have adverse effects on the environment that were more than minor.
The report, authored by manager of consents Malcolm Miller, stated that in groundwater areas where there were currently no allocation limits - such as the unconfined area of the Heretaunga Plains - where the take would not impact on other bores in the vicinity, and where the aquifer was demonstrated to recharge annually, applications were processed as non-notified because their effects are considered to be no more than minor.
Of the consents processed by council each year, an average of 95 per cent are processed as non-notified applications.
Part of the public angst around water bottling consents stemmed from concern the practice was harmful for Hawke's Bay aquifers.
However, during the meeting council group manager resource management Iain Maxwell said they were not seeing an overall widespread decline in the aquifer, "to the point we're saying there is an issue".
He said there were no indicators to suggest that the allocation of groundwater should stop.
After being questioned on whether the level of the aquifer was steadily declining, Mr Maxwell said although groundwater levels were declining more than they had before in parts of the aquifer during Summer, they were "re-charging" in winter.
Council agreed to retain, at present, the current delegations to staff relating to the notification of resource consents.
If delegations were revoked from staff and retained at council level, it would need to ensure the council or delegated councillors were all appropriately trained in RMA decision making, were accessible and responsive enough to be able to take over making these decisions and be available to write the notification assessments all within the statutory timelines.
There would be costs associated, and risk of processing being delayed if councillors were not available.