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Good decision-making not on National's RMA agenda

21 July 2005

Good decision-making not on National's RMA agenda

Criticism of an Environment Court decision not to grant a consent for a lumber mill in Coromandal is a stark reminder of National's approach to planning, says Associate Environment Minister David Benson-Pope.

Mr Benson-Pope says National's Environment spokesman Nick Smith has confirmed his party's intention to gut the Resource Management Act. Today Mr Smith issued a media release criticising decisions made by the Environment Court after the hearing of evidence about a mill project near scenic Whangapoua.

In deciding not to grant a consent for the new sawmill the Environment Court cited a number of concerns including opposition from the local community, which included local Maori, and the threat posed to the environment.

"For some time National have been promising to gut the RMA but have failed to give any details," said Mr David Benson-Pope. "It is clear that this has been a deliberate strategy to avoid scrutiny of a policy that will do away with community consultation in major projects to give free licence to developers.

"Mr Smith has confirmed that his plan is to completely shut local communities out of decisions that will affect the every day lives of those communities.

"The Court decided that this project posed more problems than it solved. That is going to happen sometimes, there will often be competing interests. The answer is to have robust processes that carefully and thoughtfully weigh up those interests and give good decisions. National is clearly saying that it will throw out the rule book so that haphazard development can go ahead unimpeded."

Mr Benson-Pope confirmed that between 2000 and this year there had been at least 11 new mill projects or mill expansions in New Zealand worth over $110 million. Over the next four years there has already been publicly announced a further 8 new mills or mill expansion projects worth in excess of $470million. He says this is under the current RMA provisions, which are set to be further improved by a Bill now before Parliament.

"New Zealanders value the environment and understand the need to balance the demands of the economy with people's expectations to live in and enjoy our spaces," said Mr Benson-Pope. "That requires good planning processes that balance these competing demands. Mr Smith has shown that all the National Party really cares about is unfettered development."


Publicly announced investment in new mills and mill expansions 2000-2005:

Company name: Description: Amount invested (NZ$m)
Craigpine Upgrades at Tokoroa Mill 2.7
Jenkin Timber Further expansion Henderson Mill 1.3
Renalls New sawmill in the Wairarapa 4.0
Carter Holt Harvey Upgrade Whakatane Mill 4.0
East Coast Lumber Mill expansion in Wairoa 2.0
Juken Nissho Expansion of Kaitaia Mill 50.0
Prime Sawmills Upgrades to Rayonier Mill at Gisborne 1.0
Rosvall Sawmill Sawmill upgrade - Whangarei 5.0
Winston Pulp Int. Sawmill expansion 10.5
Hunter Hills Sawmill New Sawmill 12.0
Flight Timbers Tripling sawmill production 20.0
Total: 112.5

Publicly announced investment in new mills and mill expansions 2006-2009:
Company name: Description: Amount invested (NZ$)
Carter Holt Harvey New sawmill Northland or Tokoroa 150.0
Carter Holt Harvey Modernisation of Tasman Mill, Kawerau 37.0
City Forests Sawmill at Milbank 20.0
Ernslaw One Expansion of Pacific Pine Sawmill 30.0
TDC Sawmills Sawmill expansion 80.0
Weyerhaeuser Expansion of the Kaituna Mill 40.0
City Forests Proposed expansion of Milbank Sawmill 15.0
Hikurangi Forests New sawmill at Gisborne 100.0
Total: 472.0

Paragraphs 162-168 of the Whangapoua Mill decision of Principal Environment Judge R J Bollard, Environment Commissioner H A McConachy, and Deputy Environment Commissioner T Fookes:

Bearing in mind everything advanced in favour of the proposal, we find in the light of the evidence presented for WEPS, that the mill would be incongruous at the location proposed.

It would introduce a significant industrial activity involving major long term land modification, and impact upon the natural character and pleasantness of the public access route alongside the Opitonui River adjacent to the site, with the mill building in particular constituting a dominant feature in close proximity to the river.

As Mr Curtis acknowledged, there is also the potential for a “pine odour” effect from the kiln-drying part of the operation to be detected in the vicinity of the site, which would include the adjacent reserve area - although, on the evidence of both Mr Pilgrim and Mr Curtis, without detriment to people’s health. We do not overlook the point made in evidence that localised odour effects can occur from time to time in the existing rural environment from permitted activities.

However, we do not consider that the specific pine odour effect upon the immediately surrounding area that would potentially derive from the mill as a long-term industrial activity, can be simply regarded as though it were an ordinary “rural-related” effect of common occurrence and general acceptability.

Viewed overall, the proposed operation would produce a marked change within what is currently a quiet rural valley with distinct natural character advantages linked to the wellbeing of people now and in the future, particularly from a recreational perspective associated with Motutere and the river. The green hinterland peacefulness and attractiveness of the Opitonui valley, plus the ambience of rural living are important factors for the local community and visitors to the area, inter-linking with the coastal environment and the harbour.

In the foregoing context, the 24-hour operations of the boiler and associated emissions from the 30m stack bear noting. On the basis of Mr Pilgrim’s assessment that under normal operational conditions during relatively warm weather the discharge from the stack would be “hazy white to almost clear”, with a whiter visual effect potential during cooler conditions, and with the additional potential for greater (albeit infrequent and temporary) effects on account of boiler “start-ups”, malfunctions and the like, we consider that the emissions in visual terms, looking at the position in an overall sense, would be a continuing long term indicator of the mill’s industrial presence in the Opitonui valley.

In summary, the proposal is such that it cannot be characterised as of passing moment for this area. Rather, it is of a scale and nature that prevents it from being straightforwardly accommodated within the surrounding environment. In our judgement it would impact upon and undermine the natural character of the Opitonui valley, overlooked as it is by the distant but imposing presence of the mountain.

Motutere is unquestionably a significant natural feature of recreational and cultural importance, readily visible from the proposed site. Furthermore, the valley’s significance for present and future generations is such as to militate against the placement of so major an industrial development within its landscape setting, given the valley’s linkage, from a combined visual, amenity and cultural perspective, with the mountain and vice versa, and the important presence of the river with its reserve margin abutting the site.

Realistically, an industrial project of this scale in an area such as this requires a broader perspective to be brought to bear than was seemingly applied at first instance. In short, implementation of the proposal would not only affect the natural character of the area, but would be a major defining event for this rural valley and river catchment, which, in the wider amenity sense, connects with the scenic landmark of Motutere to the southwest and the Opitonui estuary and Whangapoua harbour to the northeast.

We have had regard to the planning instruments (both district and regional) and related provisions drawn to our attention, and considered the views of the witnesses on each side who addressed the many considerations arising. While we have earlier set forth or summarised various provisions of the district plan, we have in fact reviewed and considered the whole plan, so that it should not be taken that the omission of specific mention of a particular provision means that we have disregarded it.

The plan is not a document that aspires to Chancery draughtsmanship, or to any accolade of perfection. But when one views it overall, it is a plan that recognises the sensitivity of the Coromandel environment in areas such as this, and, on analysis, contains a range of pointers that do not support upholding such a large-scale industrial development on the subject site.

After due consideration, we are not convinced that allowing this project to proceed as proposed would serve the purpose of the RMA in terms of social and cultural well-being, but in so concluding we by no means overlook the economic aspect in terms of operational efficiency and the creation of employment opportunity that the mill would generate.

Mindful as we are of the positive factors urged upon us in favour of the mill proceeding, in our judgement the proposal at such a scale and intensity at this location fails to accord with the qualifying intent of s.5(2) of the RMA under paragraph (c) of the subsection of “(a)voiding remedying or mitigating any adverse effects of activities on the environment”.

The magnitude of the proposal militates against its ability adequately to satisfy that essential element for achieving the RMA’s purpose.


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