Salmon farm relocation opponents consider judicial review if Primary Industries Minister backs proposal
Groups opposing the relocation of salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds have vowed not to go down without a fight if the controversial proposal gets pushed through.
Environmental and community groups are considering their next steps if Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy triggers legislation allowing the relocation to go ahead.
For the six New Zealand King Salmon farms to be shifted, Guy has to invoke section 360A of the Resource Management Act to overrule aquaculture rules set by the council.
Plan changes can usually be challenged in the Environment Court, but if Guy approves the relocation bid the only recourse for opposition groups is to seek a judicial review.
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They say the option is on the table, but first they have to wait for Guy to reach a decision - which will only come after the hearing panel submits its report.
Public hearings on the Ministry for Primary Industries proposal to relocate up to six King Salmon farms from low-flow to higher-flow sites in the Marlborough Sounds wrapped up last week.
For more than a month, the three-strong panel chaired by former Environment Court judge Peter Skelton listened to presentations on the proposal - 37 in support, and 55 against.
The panelists are expected to submit their report and recommendations, based on the presentations and some 591 written submissions, to Guy by the end of June.
Environmental Defence Society chief executive Gary Taylor said the organisation, which submitted in opposition, had profound concerns with the relocation proposal and process.
"It fast tracks normal planning processes, and the rights of intervention are severely constrained. Effectively the minister has the power to override the Marlborough District Council's plan," he said.
"There's no appeal rights under the RMA with section 360 powers, but because it's a ministerial decision it's open to judicial review in the High Court."
Taylor said if Guy decided to change the council's Marlborough Sounds Resource Management Plan to allow the relocation to go ahead the society would consider a judicial review of the decision.
Guardians of the Sounds spokeswoman Clare Pinder said her organisation and other community groups in the Marlborough Sounds were not ruling out similar steps.
"There's nothing more we can do but wait for that decision to come through. And at that time the community groups will decided what action they'll take in terms of a judicial review," she said.
Pinder was highly critical of the MPI consultation process, and the way the hearings were structured so submitters could not cross examine opposing witnesses or positions.
She contrasted this with the approach of a Board of Inquiry that was tasked in 2012 with deciding King Salmon's applications for plan changes and resource consents for nine new salmon farms.
"It was a robust process and it allowed for cross examination and it didn't just give the minister the answer he wanted," she said.
"During the Board of Inquiry process we were able to challenge the evidence [King Salmon] put forward, and they were ale to challenge our evidence, and that's part of the democratic process."
In contrast, King Salmon chief executive Grant Rosewarne said the hearings were conducted in a fair and open way, and the panelists seemed to take an evidence-based approach.
He was confident this meant the proposal would be successful, adding there was widespread support to see the farms relocated with 69 per cent of written submissions on the proposal in favour.
"When you look at a whole range of things; environmental grounds, social grounds, economic grounds, it's hard to beat aquaculture, and that comes out when you take an evidence-based approach," he said.
Rosewarne said it was pre-emptive and disappointing groups were talking about judicial reviews before the panel had completed its report, or Guy had come to a decision on the proposal.
If the minister decided not to support the relocation of the farms, King Salmon would go through the usual RMA processes to seek to shift them, Rosewarne said.
A spokesman for Guy said the minister established the panel to make independent recommendations, which would be important to the final decision on the relocation proposal.
"The final decision may be approve all, none or some of the farms," he said.
Guy had an open mind on the process and did not have a preference either way, the spokesman said.
- The Marlborough Express