Marlborough mussel farm saga continues as trust heads to Court of Appeal

A mussel farm at Kenepuru Sound, in the Marlborough Sounds. (File photo)
SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

A mussel farm at Kenepuru Sound, in the Marlborough Sounds. (File photo)

If at first you don't succeed, try and try again.

Would-be mussel farmers have been denied three times in their bid to build a farm in the Marlborough Sounds, but that doesn't mean they have given up the ghost.

The RJ Davidson Family Trust's consent application was rejected by the Marlborough District Council, the Environment Court and the High Court.

A Clearwater Mussels boat used for re-seeding mussel lines in the Kenepuru Sound. (File photo)
MIKE WATSON/FAIRFAX NZ

A Clearwater Mussels boat used for re-seeding mussel lines in the Kenepuru Sound. (File photo)

Luckily for them, though, there is still the Court of Appeal, even if opponents think they are "flogging a dead horse".

READ MORE: 
* Marlborough Sounds salmon relocation plan unpopular with community groups
* Bid for new mussel farm declined 

The trust first applied for consent for a 7.4-hectare mussel farm at Beatrix Bay in 2014, and Havelock-based mussel company Clearwater Mussels was going to operate it. 

The farm was to be located within an "Area of Significant Ecological Value" in the Marlborough Sounds Resource Management Plan. 

An independent planning commissioner heard the case first, before it went to the Environment Court, where the RJ Davidson Family Trust lost again. 

In their application, RJ Davidson sought consent to disturb the seabed with anchoring devices, to take and discharge coastal sea water, to harvest the produce from the marine farm and to discharge biodegradable and organic waste during harvest. 

Clearwater Mussels owner John Young said he was "very disappointed" with the outcome of the High Court case, released last month, and he believed it was an example of "woolly thinking".

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In her judgement in the High Court, Justice Helen Cull followed the precedent set by another Marlborough Sounds case, the 2014 Supreme Court case between the Environmental Defence Society and New Zealand King Salmon, which found King Salmon could not create a new salmon farm at Port Gore. 

In the King Salmon case, the court decided a coastal plan was more important than principles contained in the Resource Management Act, including the economic and social wellbeing of the community. 

Resource management expert Rachel Brooking said Justice Cull's High Court decision to apply the same reasoning signalled a "pretty big change" in the way resource management cases were handled nationally. 

In the past, developers had been able to use the economic wellbeing argument to bolster their case, Brooking said. 

Young said the case had dragged on for three years but there was an important point to be made. The trust had sought leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal. 

 

The council was putting marine farming in the Marlborough region "in a legal straitjacket", Young said.

The council was joined in its opposition to the farm by the Kenepuru and Central Sounds Residents Association Incorporated, and Friends of Nelson Haven and Tasman Bay Incorporated. 

Kenepuru and Central Sounds Residents Association vice-president Andrew Caddie said the case had been very costly for the organisation in terms of time. 

The trust lost the past three cases, and at some point someone would probably wonder if they were "flogging a dead horse", he said. 

The conservation group would keep fighting the farm, alongside the council, and a date had already been set for a preliminary Court of Appeal hearing in May. 

"I think this is a very important case," Caddie said.

 - The Marlborough Express

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