Every New Zealander should have the right to speak out if a major development threatens their home, livelihood, or a place they care about. Yet this right is increasingly at risk, including in places like North Canterbury.
Issac Road near Eyrewell Forest on the north bank of the Waimakariri River is an attractive rural road with a diverse community of small holdings and lifestyle blocks that enjoy expansive views over the plains to the Southern Alps.
In late November, Issac Road residents discovered that their environment could be disrupted by Christchurch Ready Mix Concrete Ltd’s plans to open a quarry operation on their road. A quarry that would run 24 hours a day, six days a week, for the next 20 years, with trucks shifting gravel running day and night.
The residents also discovered they may not get the chance to raise their concerns with the Waimakariri District Council about the potential impact of the quarry on their businesses, health and way of life. That’s because changes the National Government made to the Resource Management Act mean council staff, rather than residents, get increased powers to decide who can and cannot make a submission on disruptive developments like this.
If their house isn’t right next door to the quarry development, or council staff believe they’re not “directly affected”, then there’s a good chance these residents’ concerns won’t be heard by decision-makers.
One family living on Issac Road moved there after the Christchurch earthquakes, leaving behind the stress of living in a home broken and damaged by liquefaction for the peace and tranquillity of rural north Canterbury. Now, after several years dealing with EQC and insurance hassles, they face another fight – to be heard by the local council and prevent a large, noisy industrial quarry starting up across the road. They are worried about the quarry’s impacts on their new blueberry growing business and their outdoor lifestyle.
Another resident, Ian, bought his home 17 years ago with his partner who is asthmatic and suffers from respiratory challenges. They decided this would be a perfect place for her health and for their business breeding horses. But Ian is now worried that quarry dust and noise will affect both his partner and his horses’ health and their bees.
Waimakariri District Council has long encouraged people who want to live on a lifestyle block to come to north Canterbury for the space, rural environment and clean air. An estimated 22,000 of Waimakariri’s residents live on lifestyle blocks. Machinery working occasionally at night to harvest hay, trucks moving stock and the smells of rural life are part of living on a lifestyle block. But an industrial quarry working virtually 24/7, quarrying, crushing rock, and trucking it out is very different. Industrial activities don’t belong in rural residential areas.
There are alternative sites where this company could establish a quarry, as much of the Canterbury Plains are formed from gravel carried from the mountains of the Southern Alps by big braided rivers like the Waimakariri.
The Isaac Road residents want to be able to tell the council how the proposed quarry operation will affect them and their community and why the council should decline consent to the application. For this to happen the Waimakariri District Council needs to publicly notify the quarry application so that all residents can have a say. There is no certainty under the current law that that will happen.
The National Government has already tilted the Resource Management Act in favour of corporate interests and eroded the rights of everyday New Zealanders to have a say about what happens in their community. Yet, National is now proposing more changes to our environmental protections. The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill now before Parliament seeks to further reduce New Zealanders’ rights to participate in decisions affecting them; as well as appeal bad council decisions to the Environment Court.
The Green Party wants our environmental law to be fair and even-handed; to balance the rights of responsible businesses and affected communities. All New Zealanders should be able to participate in decisions which affect them and their community. The Green Party believes that our environmental law needs a sweeping review. Contrary to National, however, we think that this should be about strengthening people’s right to have a say and protect their environment.