Time running out for community's fight against Otakiri Springs water bottling plant

Time is running out for a small Bay of Plenty community, who are raising funds to fight an international water bottling giant in the High Court.

Opponents are concerned the plant will generate millions of plastic bottles every day - but the company says it's throwing a lifeline to a regional economy in rapid decline.

Otakiri Springs, a small water bottling plant near Whakatane, is at the centre of the long legal battle over its plans to expand.

"It's taken four years to get to where we are," Otakiri Springs CEO Jim Robertson says.

The Springs have been locally owned and operated for more than 30 years but the board now wants Creswell NZ, owned by Chinese water bottling giant Nongfu, to take over and grow the business.

A consent granted by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council in 2018 allows 1 billion litres of water to be taken per year, up from the current 438 million.

The plant will be able to produce more than 3.5 million plastic bottles of water every day to be shipped to international markets in South East Asia and China.

Some locals aren't happy with the planned expansion. After a recent Environment Court appeal ended in a split decision, they are heading to the High Court and crowdfunding to get there.

"We don't want these types of activities," Save Otakiri campaign chair Maureen O'Kane says.

"We don't want our best water used and we don't want to be known for creating that many plastic bottles."

Robertson's been running the plant since its inception in the 1980s. He's backing the development plans and says the consent process was stringent.

He thinks locals should be focusing on what the company could do for the community.

"Look at Whakaari/White Island, look what's happened there. This area is desperate for expansion and new jobs. We desperately need them here," he says.

Only eight people work at the factory now, with Robertson saying a bigger factory would employ more workers.

The company says the expansion would create 52 new jobs and pump more than $8 million annually into the economy - but not all locals are buying it.

"The jobs and the economic growth aren't guaranteed and that's something that hasn't been  strenuated enough," O'Kane says.

What is guaranteed, is that any change is likely to be years away.

Opponents of the plan have until the end of the month to launch their High Court appeal.