Bottlers' 'chequered' consent past questioned

By Victoria White

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Labour Tukituki candidate Anna Lorck said the region was reaching breaking point following the issuing of the consent to "a convicted fraudster and bankrupt".
Labour Tukituki candidate Anna Lorck said the region was reaching breaking point following the issuing of the consent to "a convicted fraudster and bankrupt".

Concerns over the chequered past of Hawke's Bay's newest water bottling consent holders is "ridiculous", the company's chief executive says.

In July, the Hawke's Bay Regional Council granted a resource consent to Jess and Tae's Water Ltd to take about 780,000 cubic metres of water a year from a Napier site.

This is the tenth water bottling consent issued by the council.

Added to the tension around water bottling is concern that the company's two directors, Robert Swetman and Tony Burrell, were "a convicted fraudster and bankrupt".

In 2001 Mr Burrell was one of three men convicted of a multi-million housing scam, and sentenced to three years' jail.

Both of the majority shareholders had been declared bankrupt; Mr Burrell in 2001, and Mr Swetman in 2007.

Neither could be contacted for comment yesterday.

However, the chief executive of the company which will operate the consent, John Guy, defended the Waikato-based pair on their behalf.

He said concern around the men's past "seemed ridiculous" as the incidents had occurred years ago.

"What difference does it make?" he said. "Even though it looks bad, they are Kiwis, and sure they've done wrong, but they've served their time."

Labour Tukituki candidate Anna Lorck said the region was reaching breaking point following the issuing of the consent to "a convicted fraudster and bankrupt".

The aquifer, and region's reputation, deserved better than the poor resource consent process, she said adding it was time to "turn the tap off".

She said she felt for regional council staff who are just doing their jobs, "hamstrung by a poor process that needs to stop".

A "simple google" of the shareholders would have raised a red flag on the application, she said.

"These water bottling consents rely on a huge amount of trust from the applicant around the taking of water for export. That alone should require due diligence on the applicant."

However, HBRC group manager resource management Iain Maxwell said the resource management act was effects-based legislation, and those behind a company applying for a resource consent were not considered when issuing one.

The council had a statutory responsibility to sustainably manage natural resources which it did through the resource consent process to ensure the effects were no more than minor.

"My teams and I are involved in science investigations and regulation of these resources. We take this responsibility very seriously," he said.

The consent was initially granted in 2007 with the purpose of processing and storage of vegetable products.

Under the conditions of the consent issued to Jess and Tae's, the water taken from a site in Briasco St, Awatoto, was not to exceed 18,000 cubic metres in seven days, or 786,240 cubic metres in 12 months.

The consent stated the rate of taking should not exceed 30 litres per second.

However, Mr Guy said a lot of the conflict around the consent was being "built up" as at the start of operations they would be taking under 4 litres a second.

When asked if he felt Mr Swetman and Mr Burrell were capable, Mr Guy said they were.

"And there are other people involved as well," he said. "There will be other directors appointed to make sure nothing goes foul."

As the two had no experience in the water industry Mr Guy, with 30 years experience, had been brought in. They hoped the company would be operational in six months "if things work out". The plans were confidential, but Mr Guy said the product would "most probably" be exported.

The two directors would most likely not be based in Hawke's Bay, Mr Guy said. He and a manager, who was "in the background" but yet to be appointed, would be in the Bay.

They would also be employing a number of local staff.

-Ms Lorck has created a website for a public mandate to send to the decision makers. Visit turnthetapoff.co.nz

- Hawkes Bay Today

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