The Māori trustees of Porotī Springs near Whangarei say the local council should never again issue a consent for a water-bottling plant over the road.
A land-use consent for a factory, granted 12 years ago to the Auckland company Zodiac Holdings, has lapsed with no sign of building on the site, and no application to the council for a building permit.
Zodiac Holdings and its subsidiary, New Zealand Spring Water, have declined to comment on why they allowed the land-use consent to lapse.
The company has a separate resource consent to take water from bores on the land for the next 30 years, but has never used it.
Māori who own Porotī Springs have strongly opposed the bottling project, fearing it would deplete the aquifer that feeds the springs.
Trustees chair Taipari Munro said hapū feared Zodiac was about to sell the site to overseas interests.
He said it made no sense for the government to say no one owned water, when companies like Zodiac were able to effectively bank resource consents for years, not use them, then sell them for profit.
"This is one of the issues we have raised.
"You know, we are told continually that nobody can own water, and yet people can treat it like a property right, and sell it abroad," he said.
Mr Munro said the Waitangi Tribunal would soon begin its inquiry into the Porotī claim, and hapū were watching the case and the site very closely.
Whangarei District Council said if the company or another wanted to go ahead with a bottling factory, it would have to reapply for the land-use consent and it was highly likely that would be publicly notified.