The inquiry into the contamination of Havelock North's drinking water will be postponed until late January 2017, because of a legal battle between two Hawke's Bay councils.

Yesterday the inquiry released a decision to adjourn the inquiry evidence hearings until the week beginning January 30, 2017.

On Friday it was announced the Hawke's Bay Regional Council had laid two charges against the Hastings District Council for unlawful taking of water.

The next hearing for the inquiry, at which evidence would be heard from core participants, was due to be held on Monday at Hastings District Court. On the same day, in a separate courtroom, the district council would be called for their charges.

Advertisement

Yesterday the district council applied for the postponement of the inquiry until after this prosecution had finished.

Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule said he was disapointed the inquiry would be delayed.

"This adds another two months until we get an answer on what happened," he said.

Although the council had been the ones to apply for a postponement, with the proseuction and inquiry proceeding at once, Mr Yule said based on legal advice the council did not have another choice.

"I don't want any more delays, and I don't think the public does either, but we were in a no-win position".

In its application, the council cited the disruption to staff caused by the charges which meant evidence could not be filed on the due date - November 18, the day HBRC had laid two charges against the district council.

As well as this, the council's legal representative also advised the inquiry that he had concern the laying of charges at this stage of the inquiry process could prejudice the council, and those employed by it.

This included the allegations in the prosecution over matters the inquiry could be examining - the summary of facts accompanying the charge sheet from HBRC alleged the contaminated water entered the bores via insecure cable ports and glands in the wellhead, alleging that as a result, a significant number of Havelock North residents became ill.

HBRC and the Hawke's Bay District Health Board both submitted responses to the district council's application.

The memorandum submitted on behalf of HBRC stated they neither supported, nor opposed the application, and would abide by the decision of the inquiry.

However, they did submit a number of responses to the points raised in the district council's application.

Last night, council chairman Rex Graham could not be reached for comment.

The HBDHB's memorandum stated while the significant delay caused by an adjournment "creates risk and considerable additional cost, all at the expense of Hawke's Bay residents", the DHB conceded the arguments raised by the council around prejudice, and the ability to have a fair trial were valid, and would need to be considered carefully by the inquiry.

Although there were a number of factors the inquiry stated weighed against a postponement - including that the resulting substantial delay would mean the reporting date of March 2017 could not be met - it resolved to postpone.

As of last Friday the inquiry had been ready and able to begin hearings as scheduled, with "substantial volumes of evidence" had been filed for the inquiry from core participants - aside from those affected by last Monday's earthquake.

In its decision, the inquiry stated although they had not been persuaded a full postponement of the inquiry was justified, "we consider it would not be fair or appropriate to require the Hastings District Council to participate in hearings commencing in (now) three working days time".

The inquiry had been informed there was a "firm fixture" available for the hearing of the prosecution of the district council of Janury 17.

They stated they would be proceeding with the hearings on the week of January 30, regardless of the positions of the prosecutions.

Before this decision, after the November 28 hearing, the inquiry would reconvene on December 12, with this further hearing period to end on December 20. There was a possibility for more hearing time in January.