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Wider debate needed on Change for Ruakura Development Plan

Wider debate needed on Plan Change for Ruakura Development Plan, which includes proposed Inland Port

21st March 2014

Leaders from a number of community groups representing Hamilton eastern suburbs’ residents met 19th March to discuss the upcoming hearing of Tainui Group Holdings’ (TGH) application for a major plan change to allow acceleration of their proposed Ruakura Development Plan. This application will be heard by a Board of Inquiry appointed by the Environmental Protection Agency, starting on May 6th and running for up to five weeks. So far every application that the EPA has heard to make a plan change exception for other developments have all been aproved.

If granted, the plan change would grant Tainui Group Holdings (and their partners Chedworth Park Ltd) wide powers to sidestep existing planning and approval processes to proceed with construction of an inland port and associated warehousing and industry at Ruakura. Local residents have identified a number of significant concerns with the application which they would like to see more widely and openly debated, with the residents strongly opposed to the Ruakura Development Plan.

Of particular concern is the manner in which the developers have used a private plan change application to sidestep existing planning and approval processes that were already well developed under the leadership of the Hamilton City Council.

Even the Hamilton City Council, which broadly supports development at Ruakura, has raised serious concerns about the ‘more permissive planning regime’ (Para 20 of the HCC submission – see http://www.epa.govt.nz/resource-management/NSP000034/NSP000034_Hamilton_City_Council_106914.pdf) sought by the developers. If approved, the TGH plan would allow TGH considerable freedom to pursue their interests outside of the broader and more coordinated planning provided by Council and place the development outside of many of the broad guidelines in the proposed Hamilton City Plan and the Waikato Regional Policy Statement and it would apparently exempt TGH from the requirement to consult with members of the public affected by many of the future activities at Ruakura.

These concerns are also echoed in submissions by other major bodies and organisations, including the New Zealand Transport Agency (responsible for planning of New Zealand’s transport network), Transpower New Zealand (which oversees protection of New Zealand’s transmission line network), the Waikato District Council and the Waikato Regional Council. Serious concerns have also been raised by the Future Proof Implementation Committee, a regional growth strategy group that includes representatives from the Hamilton City Council, the Waipa District Council, the Waikato District Council, the Waikato Regional Council, and tāngata whenua (Waikato-Tainui).

One of the other issues with the application, said Emeritus Prof Farrell, is the degree to which debate on the proposal in the broader community requires contending with the complexity and formality of the hearing process as well the details surrounding the application through numerous and large documents. The sheer volume of this material and its complexity, to be assessed over short time frames, makes it challenging for community groups and private individuals seeking relief from the real impacts on their communities. Nonetheless, the residents groups are highly engaged with the process.

The residents and community group representatives have identified a number of issues of concern. These include:

• what will be the impact of a new industrial area in Hamilton immediately adjacent to areas long designated as residential or rural, closely adjacent to the Ruakura Knowledge Zone, (the University, the Innovation Park and the Ruakura research campus, NIWA) a substantial local concentration of student residences and primary intermediate, and secondary schools? Are there other more innovative/commercial developments that would better complement this neighbourhood? (see also this concern as expressed in the HCC submission)

• how will the proposed Ruakura development integrate with long-established freight and logistics facilities to the north of Hamilton at Te Rapa, which also have rail access? How justified is this development in a regional context, given these and other new warehouse developments elsewhere in Hamilton? How well has the proposed plan addressed the concerns raised by the Aurecon report (commissioned by the Waikato Regional Council) entitled “Research into Freight, Hub/Inland Port Development in the Waikato Region” including the increased heavy vehicle movements? Alternative locations for inland ports were well identified in the Aurecon report. Not just from the heavy vehicles, but from trains and equipment, what will be the contribution of the Inland Port to pollution in the area, particularly diesel engines running 24/7 and impact of the CO2 emissions?

• the impacts that development of an inland port would have on long-established residential neighbourhoods, particularly in Fairview Downs, around Ryeburn and Percival Roads, along Silverdale Road and Nevada Road and the generally the Silverdale and Hillcrest areas? Some screening of the inland port and industrial buildings has been proposed by the developers, but residents are not convinced that this will be sufficient to mitigate the visual changes that will occur, or that they will adequately screen the noise and light pollution that will occur across what is currently a quiet rural landscape;

• greatly increased flows of traffic, including heavy trucks, on urban roads not designed for high-density freight movement, and which run past schools, day-care centres, residential properties and student accommodation. Of particular concern is Tainui’s plan to accelerate development of the inland port in advance of the Hamilton Bypass which is not planned for completion until 2019 - this speeding up of the inland port development will push heavy transport onto the existing roading network, which is already struggling to cope with existing university and commuter traffic;

• biosecurity issues – with containers coming into the proposed inland port from overseas, there would appear to be a high potential for the introduction of new organisms into a landscape that supports some of New Zealand’s richest dairy land, and that includes high-value breeding stock held by the Livestock Improvement Corporation only a kilometre or so away. Residents group members are frankly surprised that the rural community and dairy interests have not been more alert to this issue;

• A variety of environmental impacts are inevitabe. Alteration of the hydrology of the Mangaonua Stream, flows in which are likely to become much more flashy and polluted as the inland port development expands, due to the much more rapid run off of rainfall from extensive impervious surfaces. Bank scouring is already a problem for Silverdale Resident’s whose properties adjoin the Mangaonua Stream, and this is likely to become even more significant unless adequate measures are put in place to provide robust protection of both residential and natural values, concerns for the major impact of the development on the flora and fauna of the ecosystems of the nearby Mangaonua and Kirikirikoa gullies.

The residents will be asking questions at the Board of Inquiry concerning accountability of the proposed development, particularly during the lengthy construction phase which could continue for decades.

ENDS

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