Meridian Wind Farm Proposal Heading to the Environment Court
The courts will determine the fate of a proposed wind farm near Greta Valley in North Canterbury that has polarised the local community.
In front of a large gallery of interested members of the public the Hurunui District Council and Canterbury Regional Council today agreed to a request by Meridian Energy to refer the matter directly to the Environment Court.
The decision means neither consenting authority will hold any hearings into the proposal which includes the erection of 33 wind turbines up to 130.5 metres in height on the eastern side of State Highway 1 between Omihi and Greta village.
Hurunui Mayor Winton Dalley says the Council accepts the weight of submissions means the proposal will most likely end up before the court regardless.
“The large number of submissions received either strongly in opposition or in support indicates that if the application is heard by council in the first instance, the likelihood of an appeal is so high, that ultimately it would be appealed to the Environment Court for a final determination anyway. Referring it directly just speeds up the inevitable.”
“Sending the application directly to the courts means we will not be actively forced to defend a decision to grant or decline the consents, but puts us in a position to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the application and supporting evidence.“The Environment Court is also better placed to resolve technical issues particularly in the area of noise and health effects which we believe will be more robustly examined through cross examination and presentation of sworn evidence."
131 submissions have been received on Meridian Energy’s proposal. 50 in support and 77 in opposition. Almost two thirds (81) of the submitters have indicated they wish to be heard. (Four of the submissions neither support nor oppose.)
Mayor Dalley acknowledges there are also significant cost advantages to the wider Hurunui community from the direct referral process. “With the alternative two-step process, if it goes to appeal, the costs can be considerable and the Council has little control over them escalating because it must defend its decision if appealed. “The Mainpower Mt Cass windfarm consent application for example, has already cost the Hurunui ratepayers $417,000, and that does not include the costs of a substantive Environment Court hearing commencing next week.”
Mayor Dalley accepts some submitters may not be happy with the Council’s decision to adopt the more streamlined process, made possible by a 2009 amendment to the Resource Management Act.
“Locals are likely to feel more comfortable submitting in the more accessible and informal council process and local venue than the relative formality of the court.
“But in this case where an appeal is almost inevitable, because the decision is likely to be made there in any event, they will have to go through the more formal process regardless. That is the simple reality.
“On the positive side they will only have to submit once and will not have to pay the usual $500 filing fee to appeal a case to the Environment Court, because the matter is already there.”
The Council hopes at least part of the Environment Court hearing could be held locally.
In making its decision the Council focused solely on procedural impacts of selecting one procedure over the other, and not on its view of the substantive merits of the proposal.
Mayor Dalley says that Councillors in coming to their decision clearly made it with the best information available and with the overall interests of the community in mind.
Because submitters are by law not entitled to have a say on the referral request, Mr John Carr (a submitter in opposition) and a Meridian representative were denied speaking rights at today’s Council meeting where the matter was decided.
For further information contact:
Hurunui District Council