A "substantive shift" from the company driving the Ruataniwha Dam to ensure it meets environmental standards has been applauded by its parent, the Hawke's Bay Regional Council.

At a council meeting yesterday the Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company's (HBRIC) incoming chairman Chris Tremain told councillors they were developing a "River First" strategy to deliver on new environmental standards for the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme.

The council's recently completed review of the controversial scheme raised several environmental concerns, which the council responded to with the addition of a new condition precedent.

This stipulated the remainder of the council's $80 million investment would be subject to further review of the scheme's existing environmental management package.


The "River First" strategy would work to meet this precedent, with the management package including approaches to managing nitrogen under such farm plans, and flushing flows, and that any changes to this management package meet the council's satisfaction two months before financial close.

As well as being applauded as a positive step by members of the council, the work programme stressed the need for collaboration between the two bodies - which has previously appeared strained.

In its early stages, there were few details about the strategy that could be shared with councillors, other than it would take a catchment-wide approach in seeking to meet the new condition.

Councillor Alan Dick queried whether HBRIC's intention to take this wide approach - rather than just focus on users of the scheme under its mandate - would be a realistic expectation for the company.

Tremain said it was going to be "very difficult, but that is the direction we've been requested to pursue".

"Frankly I don't want to be involved with a scheme that's not going to deliver net positive gains for the environment over a long period of time," he said.

It was agreed HBRIC and the council would need to work together to meet the condition.

"We cannot achieve on our own the results that councillors and the community are expecting from that catchment," Tremain said. "We see the strategy as being very much a partnership where we all have a role to play."

The strategy was applauded by some, including staunch anti-dam councillor Paul Bailey who said Tremain's approach to delivering long-term environmental benefits from the scheme "reflects the direction this council is looking at".

Councillor Neil Kirton said it was a "very substantive shift".

As well as the programme being an acknowledgement that there needed to be a total catchment-based approach, it reflected the need for an integrated process, and partnership between HBRIC and the council.

This showed that HBRIC was "not some observer on the side, which I suspect has been its role for quite some time, or seen itself as a very minor player in that approach".

The strategy would be presented to the council in the coming months, and would need a budget to deliver.