Last month the Hawke's Bay Regional Council put in stronger conditions to reduce the environmental and financial risks of the proposal to build the dam on the upper Makaroro River in CHB to create a 7km-long reservoir that can hold more than 100 million cubic metres of water - enough to irrigate 25,000ha of land on the drought-prone Ruataniwha Plains.
"Any attempt to change the law will be met with the same determination from Forest & Bird as the Minister of Conservation's illegal land-swap was".
In a 3-2 ruling released today [see attachment], the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal in setting aside the decision of the Department of Conservation's Director-General Lou Sanson, which revoked the conservation park status of 22 hectares needed for the RWSS to go ahead.
At issue is whether the Department of Conservation (DoC) will be allowed to swap 22ha of the Ruahine Forest Park for 170ha of land the Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company Ltd (HBRIC) would potentially buy from Smedley Station.
"It will be a relief to groups and individuals throughout the country who have submitted to the Department of Conservation on plans, strategies and policies that the the Minister and officials can not ignore these in key decisions". "It's very unlikely they'll be able to go back and try again".
This would downgrade the protected conservation status of the land to allow it to be flooded as part of the water storage scheme.
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ECO Co-chairperson, Barry Weeber, said the Supreme Court has made an important interpretation of the Conservation Act. "We've reinforced the fact that it is protected and you can't just, with the stroke of a pen, open it up for development", Mr Hackwell said. "We were waiting on several other areas waiting on this decision (including one in Richmond Forest Park and one at Lake Sumner in Canterbury) and this is going to say no to them", Mr Hackwell said.
"To change the law now would continue the recurring pattern of the government arrogantly removing environmental protection". This was the third appeal.
Greenpeace, which has campaigned strongly against the Ruataniwha dam, said the Supreme Court decision was "a major victory in the struggle against big irrigation and the nationwide intensification of dairying".
Council Chairman Rex Graham says the council's investment company is analysing the decision and the Council needs to await advice from it before it can decide what happens next.
"I don't think the government or regional council should be taking conservation land for commercial projects, conservation land is sancrosanct".