Runaway Train at Ruakura
Runaway Train at Ruakura
BY GEOFFREY and REIHANA ROBINSON
Plans for a massive rail-truck freight hub, inland container port, and sprawling industrial and commercial site at Ruakura are barreling ahead like a runaway train.
With government backing, the proposal from Tainui Group Holdings Ltd and Chedworth Properties Ltd to develop an “intermodal” transport facility smack in the middle of suburban Hamilton has moved at lightning speed.
As a result, in barely two years, the inland port plan has gone from bright idea to seemingly done deal -- with Hamilton City Council and Waikato Regional Council once again playing dutiful industry lapdogs poised to fast-track the development by amending regional policy and the district plan to suit.
For property developers TGH and Chedworth, a zoning change for nearly 500 hectares of their combined land to industrial and commercial classification would be a virtual goldmine – an instant cash windfall worth hundreds of millions of dollars in the form of increased land values and new income streams. Tainui and Chedworth are seeking as much permanent planning freedom over as much land area as possible – and as quickly as possible. HCC and WRC are on schedule to deliver just that.
Despite a sophisticated TGH public relations blitz and charm offensive, however, the most basic issues regarding this highly controversial plan have not been discussed openly or fully in public.
If industry wants another North Island freight hub, what about other, possibly more appropriate locations? Why Ruakura? Evidence presented to WRC by industry insider Tony Boyle (representing TGH) listed nine other potential locations – including Drury, Huntly, two in the Bay of Plenty and five around Hamilton – and dismissed them all. WRC has so far swallowed Boyle’s dismissal of other options with virtually no analysis and certainly no public discussion or consultation.
Why would Hamilton invite such extensive change to the fabric and character of Ruakura, Silverdale, and Hillcrest, significantly altering the lives of their residents? That’s not to mention effects on other eastern suburbs or the CBD. Is it because the big winners would be politically influential Tainui Group Holdings and Chedworth?
And exactly what kind of development are HCC and WRC inviting? According to Boyle, the rail terminal activities alone would involve four parallel sidings, each stretching 900 metres in length, with simultaneous operations on all four tracks. Boyle “conservatively” estimates close to 3,000 container movements a day – with heavy equipment moving 22 hours, 365 days a year. Much more likely is 24/7/365 operation. And that’s just the trains – not the inbound and outbound heavy-truck half of the equation.
Leaving aside trains, trucks and containers, why are HCC and WRC considering rezoning the entire 500 ha for TGH now – instantly converting a whopping five percent more of the city’s land area to industrial? In whose interest is that, especially when, according to Boyle, a freight terminal would need just 110 ha to become fully functional?
Much of the TGH master plan has nothing to do with freight handling – it includes housing, retail and a host of other property development features. If anything, rezoning all 500 ha now would seriously limit the city’s future planning options.
With a potential half-billion dollar assets windfall up for grabs, it’s in the interest of TGH and Chedworth to close a deal before too many questions and snags arise. Hamiltonians, meanwhile, have few clues as to how their city might change. All they have had are a few “informational” public meetings to promote the idea and uncritical news media rehashes of Tainui PR.
Before Hamilton City Council and Waikato Regional Council give the green light to sweeping policy and plan changes that would allow such a huge project with such sweeping impacts to proceed, questions need to be asked and answered.
Councils owe the public a comprehensive, unbiased, independent environmental impact study on behalf of the citizens of Hamilton and the western Waikato. A proper analysis would include the social, as well as economic, effects of the proposal, including comprehensive consideration of liveability and community aspirations. It would evaluate potential impacts on community cohesion, schools, and recreational opportunities. It would assess potential decreases in land values and increases in urban sprawl.
A minimal environmental impact assessment would also address potential effects of the proposal on the natural environment, from light and sound and noise pollution, to hazardous waste, security and traffic. It should assess impacts on rivers, groundwater, air quality, habitats and biodiversity, as well as human health.
HCC and WRC need to shift gears and slow down. When it comes to the inland port planning process, these councils need to rethink their destination, not just the delivery schedule.