Applause sounded in a packed Hawke's Bay Regional Council chamber yesterday, when it was unanimously agreed a review would be conducted on the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme.

While the atmosphere in the first ordinary council meeting grew tense at times - all councillors stated they welcomed the review.

Among other recommendations, they agreed to commission an independent review of key contractual, legal, financial, economic, and environmental elements of the RWSS, including the impacts and consequences of implementing plan change six with, and without it, as well as withdrawal from the scheme.

Returning Councillor Neil Kirton - who called a moratorium on action relating to the dam on election day - said this was an "important step for this incoming council".


After being "disenfranchised" with the process, he said constituents wanted the project to be reviewed, "they do want a pause, they do want a cup of tea, and they want to see the facts on the table".

He and other councillors voiced the opinion they could not advocate a withdrawal from the scheme at this stage.

The review's scale and particular details around work packages would be brought back to council in its meeting on November 30.

Yesterday councillors also agreed to consult with the Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company (HBRIC) board of directors on issues stemming from any direction to suspend activities relating to the scheme, by way of a shareholder's resolution to modify the company's Statement of Intent (SOI).

Chair Andy Pearce said the company welcomed the review which would give councillors an opportunity "to carefully consider council's position and have a consolidated view of all the information". HBRIC would assist with the review.

Reducing expenditure on the project had already been "progressively implemented" since late September - to around an eighth of an average monthly expenditure incurred over the past 12 months - as court processes around a land exchange continued.

This monthly expenditure would drop to the "tens of thousands", acting chief executive Blair O'Keeffe said.

Currently the company has motions in place to acquire 22ha needed for the project including applying for leave with the Supreme Court to appeal a decision involving the land exchange, and has filed an application to become a requiring authority through the Public Works Act.

Following discussion, councillors were told that withdrawing from these actions would have major effects with Mr Pearce saying it was "tantamount to saying you wish to abandon the project".

Councillor Rick Barker queried what effect court action was having on the willingness of the dam contractor, and the institutional investor who was "yet to be unveiled by you but known by everybody".

Mr Pearce reiterated both were committed to the project.

Councillor Alan Dick did not support the suggestion council withdraw its support for the legal initiatives.

"Any suggestion we would withdraw from the primary vehicle in place to try and resolve this matter is simply sending the message that the project is finished," he said.

While other councillors requested further information on the project, councillor Tom Belford stated he wanted to see "a clearly delineated exit path from this project".

While she welcomed the review, Central Hawke's Bay councillor Debbie Hewitt raised concerns about how long it would take, as "any slow down in the Ruataniwha Dam project at this point of time is extremely distressing for the project at large, and for my community."

She queried what could be done to speed up the review process.

"You're asking for a cup of tea, but [that] is 10 minutes, this is five months," she said.

Council group manager strategic development James Palmer stated that the more specific councillors could get about matters to be considered, the more expeditious the review would be.

"The timing driver will be principally determined by the scope of the review," he said, which at the moment was particularly broad.

If this was narrowed the expected five month timeframe could be shortened.