A Bay of Plenty councillor is calling for a moratorium on granting water bottling consents until the issue of water ownership is sorted.
The call follows the government's announcement today to grant overseas investment consent to expand a controversial water bottling plant in Otakiri near Whakatane which could provide 60 jobs over four years.
Whakatāne District councillor Mike van der Boom lives near the current site of the Otakiri Springs water bottling plant.
He said the government's decision to grant consent to Creswell New Zealand to expand the plant showed it was not serious about confronting the issue of water ownership.
Mr van der Boom proposed a moratorium on granting consents until there was further clarity on the topic.
"Any sales, international sales of these water rights should be put on hold and there's a real moratorium and we start a real discussion about who owns the water," Mr van der Boom said.
He also questioned whether 60 jobs will be created by the expansion of the water bottling plant - and the amount of money that will be pumped into the local economy.
"When you look at $6 [million], $7 million of economic benefit - what is that really? It's muskets and blankets - it's pitiful really."
He said locals he had spoken to were feeling defeated about the issue.
"They've given up really - they just think it's going to happen and obviously their not keen on having their lifestyles changed by this water bottling plant and I can understand that."
Creswell New Zealand is owned by Nongfu Spring Co Limited - a Chinese bottled water supplier which wanted to complete a $42.5 million expansion at the current water bottling plant.
They want to take up to 5000 cubic metres of groundwater per day or almost 1,100,000 cubic metres per year for the commercial bottling of water.
Creswell New Zealand managing director Michael Gleissner said the consent was great news for the Kawerau, Whakatāne and Te Teko communties.
Otakiri Springs currently employs eight full-time staff.
Mr Gleissner said the company would provide real jobs and will give priority to hiring locals - who will be given on-the-job training to raise their employment skills.
"Provided we receive resource consent, we will be able to make a significant investment in this community, where reducing unemployment has been identified by the councils as the number one issue to be addressed," Mr Gleissner said.
Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage said the decision to grant the consent to buy land was guided by the provisions of the Overseas Act.
"It does have substantial economic developments - the provision of 60 new jobs in the Whakatāne area and we've gone beyond what is normally done in how conditions are provided," Ms Sage said.
The consent would allow the company to buy around 6.2 hectares of land at Otakiri, near Whakatāne.
Ms Sage wouldn't say whether this decision would pave the way for other water bottling plants - such as the proposed water bottling plant in the Murupara, being issued consent.
Whakatāne District Council mayor Tony Bonne believed the expansion of the water bottling plant was a positive for the local economy.
He said it had been a divisive issue for the community.
"I think water is something that we treat as something sacred to New Zealand and we just to make sure that the future of New Zealand's water supply is not at risk," Mr Bonne said.
Creswell New Zealand will now need to gain water permits and resource consent from the Whakatāne District council and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council.