The Turitea Reserve wind farm took a major step forward last night after the city council voted to proceed with the project, but the vote split councillors and charges of secrecy over the proposal continue.
The council voted 13 to three to change the purpose of the Turitea Reserve to allow renewable electricity generation, confirming the decision made by the infrastructural well-being committee on October 18.
Mighty River Power is now free to apply to the council for a resource consent to build a wind farm in the reserve.
However, before the vote, Cr Pat Kelly expressed concerns he had not been allowed to see all the relevant information, since the city’s chief executive denied his request put in under the Official Information Act.
Last month, Cr Kelly asked chief executive Paul Wylie for a copy of a letter from the Conservation Department that expressed concerns about the council’s proposal to put a wind farm in the reserve, Cr Kelly told a meeting of the full council last night.
After that request, all councillors received a confidential email from Mr Wylie telling them that a legal opinion on those (DOC’s) concerns would be “provided in due course”, Cr Kelly said.
“I wrote an Official Information Act request that I be given the letter that DOC sent . . . on the basis of the need to know. However, I have been refused access to this information.”
In the letter refusing his request, Mr Wylie said Cr Kelly could go to the Ombudsman to have the decision reviewed, Cr Kelly said.
“(But) the chief executive may still decide not to provide me with the information, as he has done in the past.”
The Ombudsman ruled in January that Cr Kelly was to be given access to information that he requested under the Official Information Act and was denied, but he still hasn’t received it, Cr Kelly said.
“I’m not happy. I’m losing confidence in the process.”
However, the latest letter from DOC, dated October 27 and tabled at the meeting last night, he said has allayed his fears and he would vote in favour of changing the purpose of the reserve to allow for renewable electricity generation, he said.
The letter, signed by Wanganui conservator Bill Carlin, said the council’s proposal is able to qualify as meeting the “public benefit” and “local purpose” tests of the Reserves Act. “The city council proposes a suitable legal mechanism be developed to give effect to a guarantee that funds generated by renewable energy generation will be directed at the enhancement of the indigenous ecology of the reserve and enhanced public access in keeping with protection. This proposal is strongly supported and essential to meet the Reserves Act,” the letter said.
Mr Carlin said he believes the overall package proposed by the council will allay most doubts concerning the administration of the Turitea Reserve under the Reserves Act, “and at the same time offer significant opportunities to advance the purposes of the reserve”.
Mayor Heather Tanguay said she wanted to congratulate everyone who has been involved in the process.
“Everybody gets a pat on the back.”
Cr Peter Claridge said it was a win-win situation with the emphasis on renewable energy helping reduce global warming in the world.
“We are doing our bit and should be proud of it.”
Cr Anne Podd said voting against the proposal put her in the minority.
“It’s a minority on council, but I don’t know if it is a minority in the community.”
Cr Lew Findlay, who also voted against the proposal, said the reserve is an asset.
“I don’t want my grandchildren to look where the Turitea Reserve was and think my grandad started the rot.”
Phil Etheridge also voted against.
By Helen Harvey
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