Residents stunned by giant inland port decision

UNIMPRESSED: Roland and Wendy Spirig never thought their family home of 30 years would be neighbours to a proposed inland port.
UNIMPRESSED: Roland and Wendy Spirig never thought their family home of 30 years would be neighbours to a proposed inland port.

Groups opposed to the construction of a giant inland port on Hamilton's eastern boundary are considering their options following the final go-ahead to the project given last week.

The $3.3 billion development by Tainui Group Holdings, the commercial arm of Waikato-Tainui iwi, and Chedworth Developments, is situated on 800 hectares at Ruakura. It is intended to take advantage of existing rail and highway links and predicted to create up to 11,000 jobs, bringing $5 billion to the Waikato economy over the next 50 years.

In an effort to avoid lengthy Hamilton City Council planning process the developers applied to the Environmental Protection Agency to have the project declared a "project of national significance" and permit a private plan change which would allow the rezoning of its land from rural to employment and residential.

The EPA, which approved the plan, received and has published 77 submissions made over Tainui and Chedworth's application, with nearly half of that number opposing the plan in its entirety and asking the EPA to decline the application.

Of the 51 local residents who put their views forward on the development, the majority wanted the application rejected, citing possible noise pollution, traffic concerns, drainage and storm issues, and property devaluation as some of the reasons.

The Ruakura Residents' Group, Newstead Residents Association and Fairview Downs Residents and Owners Association all opposed the plan in full, asking the EPA to decline Tainui's request. Only the Silverdale Residents' Group found support for parts of the plan - the residential and knowledge zone areas, and the green spaces planned for - but asked the board to decline the application.

The Hamilton City Council said it was partially in support of the plan change, but wanted the EPA to make "substantial amendments" to the architecture of the proposal as well as provisions around administration, infrastructure and environmental effects.

Silverdale Residents Association head Dr Roberta Farrell said she was stunned at the EPA's decision which left residents with few options.

"There is no denying the applicants have a right to their land but to take good fertile Waikato land and concrete it over for an inland port is an abomination. Farrell said she was shocked at the authority's decision given it was meant to protect the environment.

Fairview Downs Residents Association's Debbie Fisher said she felt gutted by the decision after a two year fight, with no funding. The group had contested the TGH plan on three major grounds - the effect on air quality, hazardous substances and construction noise.

"This plan is the size of the entire Auckland CBD, it will make a huge difference to the area. They've put the noise limit levels up which is something that should have gone through Hamilton's PDP (Proposed District Plan).

Ruakura Rd furniture manufacturer Russell Cooper is among many householders and businesses in the area that will be covered by the inland port development. Cooper has been on his 2.2ha property for 18 years and had planned on staying permanently. As a result he had invested in equipment and facilities specific to his business needs. While he had been offered market value by Tainui, Cooper said TGH would have found the going a lot easier had it communicated on a more positive level with the residents earlier on.

Mike Pohio said the EPA board's decision gave clarity to the planning framework and the companies looked forward to working with the local council over the coming months.

"The six week Board of Inquiry process has been very comprehensive. We have made a point of listening very closely to the various concerns and suggestions raised in the hearings. We have altered our plans to accommodate feedback.

"We are excited about the potential for Ruakura, both for Waikato-Tainui and the people of Hamilton.."

The development could start in mid 2015 - which had been TGH's target since unveiling the plan five years ago.

Waikato Times