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Measured response continues on soils issue

Measured response continues on soils issue

December 7, 2004

The North Shore City Council is seeking expert advice before speaking out on the controversial horticultural soils issue.

Until Government authorities can answer critical questions and the council itself has clearly identified sites within North Shore City that have been used for horticultural activities, it will maintain a measured approach.

The country's fourth largest local authority has been working closely with fellow councils, environmental scientists and public health authorities on the complex subject, which has attracted comment on everything from pesticides to property values.

North Shore City is heeding the advice of the Ministry for the Environment which urged councils to seek its guidance before making any decisions. MfE is currently trying to clarify its guidelines with the Crown Law Office.

At their first strategic management committee meeting today (December 7), councillors were updated on the project to identify sites within North Shore City that had been used as market gardens, glasshouses, orchards and vineyards.

Committee chairperson, Gary Holmes, says the council's team is inspecting aerial photographs to get an accurate picture of the North Shore situation.

"The time-consuming mapping and cross-checking exercise is critical to ensuring the reliability of the information," says Councillor Holmes.

Just what North Shore City Council will do with that information will depend on how the Government's lawyers interpret the rules that dictate when councils need to disclose matters of public interest or private concern.

Councillors today decided to await the Crown Law Office legal opinion and any subsequent Government response on local authorities' statutory obligations to put on record, through Land Information Memoranda (LIMs), the fact that the land had once been horticultural.

"Like all councils, we're caught between a rock and hard place on this issue," Gary Holmes says. "We want to alert people to any potential environmental or health issues affecting their land but until we're certain of the extent of the problem, we're not willing to alarm the community unnecessarily.

"We all have work to do, and the sooner we have consistent guidelines in place the better."

North Shore City's senior environmental policy advisor, Phill Reid, is leading the council's project team.

He says the relationship of historical horticultural activities to potential soil contamination was first raised through an Auckland Regional Council and Auckland District Health Board report in 2002.

"The study aimed to identify whether regular activities on land used for horticulture, such as weed spraying and the use of pesticides, left a build-up of different chemicals within the soil.

"We will be testing our own city parks, just as our neighbouring council Auckland City has done, and will keep the public posted on that programme," Mr Reid says.

ENDS

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