Ngai Tahu appeal disappoints farmers

Ngai Tahu's $400 million investment in a North Canterbury dairy conversion meant an Environment Court appeal to restrictions on its plans was inevitable, farming and environmental groups say.

In July, Ngai Tahu Farming was granted a limited resource consent to irrigate about 7000 hectares of its 8596ha Balmoral Forest farming conversion - a fifth of what it had asked for from Environment Canterbury (ECan).

The conversion attracted criticism when proposed because of the environmental impact on the nearby Hurunui River, and this had been taken into account when commissioners made their decision.

Ngai Tahu has since lodged an appeal with the Environment Court, but was unable to give specific details about the grounds for appeal yesterday.

"Our development team continues to work through the regulatory processes. This includes the appeal process, which is designed to address errors and resolve issues in a manner which is fair and transparent," Ngai Tahu Property chief executive Tony Sewell said.

North Canterbury Federated Farmers president Lynda Murchison said "purely from a commercial perspective" an appeal had been anticipated.

"Given the investment they have in that property and the consents they have already obtained . . . it was highly likely an appeal would follow," she said.

Commissioners Paul Rogers and Emma Christmas granted Ngai Tahu a leach rate of 6.6 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare per year but, with free-draining soils at Balmoral, the project would be severely limited, Murchison said.

Waiau River Care Group member Lynda Laing said Ngai Tahu's planned farming project would be "seriously compromised" by the restrictive consent, which the group welcomed. "From our point of view, we don't want them to appeal," she said.

Former ECan councillor and opponent to the project, Jane Demeter, said a "considerable amount" of the Balmoral Forest had already been cleared which indicated the project was well on its way".

Opponents said the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus leached would exceed the Hurunui and Waiau River Regional Plan limits.

It allows for 963 tonnes of nitrogen a year at the State Highway 1 section of the river and 10.7 tonnes of phosphorus.

Nitrogen and phosphorus can be harmful to river health, producing bacteria and algae.

Of the 102 submissions to the consent, just one supported the project.

The commissioners' decision was commended by Murchison because it "stayed true" to the limits set in ECan's Hurunui-Waiau Regional Plan.

"If the commissioners had fully granted the consent, it would have left nothing for other farming activities in the area," she said.

"The most forward-thinking way may not be first in, best dressed."

Ngai Tahu Farming has appealed because it says the HWRRP was incorrectly applied by commissioners.

The hearing was the first major consent heard under the HWRRP and was expected to test nutrient limits set in the plan.

Ngai Tahu lawyers Chapman Tripp said the nutrient limits from the plan were incorrectly applied and sought to have the resource consent conditions amended to the same as set out in the original resource consent application.

It would agree to mediation of the appeal, said the appeal document.

Federated Farmers North Canterbury meat and fibre chairman Dan Hodgen said he hoped the court would also stick to the rules in the regional plan.

"Fairness and equity in allocation is something that the community needs to decide - not the courts," he said.

The Press