A Whangarei hapu says it is being treated as "flies on the wall" when it comes to decisions affecting its resources and rohe, as it fights against plans for a water bottling plant at Poroti Springs.

Auckland-based company Zodiac Holdings has had confirmation from Whangarei District Council that it can build a trial bottling operation at a vacant lot they own at Mangakahia Rd - across the road from the Whatitiri Maori Reserve Trust-owned Poroti Springs and their surrounding land. The application did not require the public to be notified, angering the three local hapu the trust represents: Te Uriroroi, Te Parawhau and Te Mahurehure.

The pilot would involve the bottling of 100 cubic metres of water per day, drawn from bores into the natural underground networks that feed Poroti Springs.

Hapu spokesman Millan Ruka was not aware of the pilot plant plan when contacted by the Advocate, though knew of the company's eventual plans for a 3650sq m full-scale operation at the site which was granted non-notified consent earlier. The August 2014 consent gave Zodiac Holdings the right to construct a plant twice the size of the one a different company had applied to build in 2001.

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"Now they have the audacity to allow this 'pilot scheme' - where is this going?," Mr Ruka said. "Is this a tick to the commercialisation of our water?"

Mr Ruka said concerns involved pollution from the plant into their lands and rivers, its visual impact and the fact that hapu had guardianship rights over water. The trust is party to a Waitangi Tribunal claim over the ownership of fresh water resources and said the plant should be put on hold until this was finalised.

Mr Ruka said the bores put the Waipao Stream, which the Poroti Springs fed, at risk of being over-taxed. Whangarei council and Maungatapere Irrigation Scheme already have long-term consents to draw water from the stream.

"All we want is to be treated fairly," he said. "Maori understand that water is for everyone. It's not justified to steal our water from across the road and continually facilitate consenting that cuts into the very values of what New Zealand holds dear: our clean water resources."

Whangarei council resource consents manager Alister Thompson said the pilot plant only required a Certificate of Compliance as it was a permitted activity under the district plan.

"No resource consent is required and notification is not even considered," he said.

"It's the same as most people wanting to build a house on a vacant section and they meet all the district plan rules - they don't need a resource consent. The certificate of compliance is just confirmation of that."

Northland Regional Council was responsible for the consent for earthworks and the drawing of water for the full-scale operation, also granted last year.

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Zodiac Holdings managing director Paul Thompson did not comment on when construction was expected to begin, but said the pilot would test the market and was expected to be small scale, with up to three staff.

It is understood Zodiac looks to export water to Southeast Asia and China.