A group of residents outraged at Greater Wellington Regional Council's attempt to put a wind farm in the Puketiro forest and Battle Hill Farm Forest Park have gone to the High Court for an injunction to halt the development and a judicial review.
Pauatahanui Futures Society Inc. says it is taking the action to "ensure the GWRC meets both its legal and moral obligations to its ratepayers and the wider community".
The group comprises Flightys, Mulherns, Moonshine, and Paekakariki Hill Roads residents. It alleges GWRC acted illegally in allowing part of the wind farm or associated infrastructure to be sited in Battle Hill Farm Forest Park (BHFFP), giving it primacy, and continuing to delay any consultation process.
Last year the Makara Guardians tried unsuccessfully to stop a 70-turbine wind farm on Makara hills by Meridian Energy, which has since begun construction on its West Wind industrial wind installation. A just-announced plan by Meridian to build a 31-turbine wind farm in Ohariu Valley, west of Johnsonville, has also aroused locals, with some vowing to go all the way to the Environment Court again to try to stop it. The West Wind challenge was lost in the Environment Court.
Pauatahanui Futures Society says it supports the development of renewable energy schemes while "preserving the values and amenities of the surrounding environment, including addressing public health and safety issues, environmental impacts, and maintaining private property rights and the value of individual investment".
It wants to promote the development of a national standard for the development and siting of wind farms and turbines, opposes the siting of the proposed Puketiro Wind Farm, and opposes access to the wind farm through Flighty's Road or off Paekakariki Hill Road.
The 41 Pauatahanui-area residents have asked the High Court to void GWRC's contract with Renewable Energy Systems New Zealand Ltd (RES), the company chosen by GWRC to develop the facility.
RES has fallen further behind its hoped-for schedule on the project, and is now not expected to make its resource consent applications until later this year, nine months later than anticipated. The injunction sought would stop RES from continuing with the application until the judicial review is completed.
The judicial review is being sought, said a society spokesman, because GWRC had repeatedly told residents to wait until the resource consent application hearings to voice their concerns, instead of running a proper consultation process and listening to objections.
GWRC initially consulted with the public over a small, 22-turbine wind farm in 2005 and awarded the contract to RES in 2006. RES has since expanded the size and extent of the wind farm to 50 turbines. GWRC later consulted on a new farm park management plan, a process the citizens allege is illegal. After residents complained GWRC said it would re-consult on BHFFP after RES gave its requirements for the wind farm.
Five of the turbines would be in Battle Hill, and paved access roads could be built through the park for construction of the entire wind farm in the park and the neighbouring Puketiro and Akatarawa forests.
Pauatahanui Futures says that's contrary to the park's existing management plan, the entire planning and contracting process is flawed and illegal, and GWRC knew it but contracted anyway, in a flagrant conflict of interest and disregard for natural justice.
The residents have been trying to get GWRC to reconsider Puketiro since this newspaper discovered late last year that GWRC was trying to change the BHFFP management plan at RES' behest after the main consultation and without earlier submitters being able to comment on RES' proposed changes.
RES wanted, and GWRC was about to include in the plan, complete primacy for wind farm activities in the park over all other uses, and exclusive control over part of the park by RES. The citizens also claim GWRC officers misled elected councillors over the Puketiro deal and the management plan.
Pauatahanui Futures alleges GWRC illegally tried to amend the park plan to allow wind farms after they had already illegally awarded a contract for the development of an illegal wind farm.
GWRC has since discussed submissions to Government on the Local Government Act for changes that would apparently give it much the same rights in regard to parks, forests and any other reserve land that the residents say it has tried to usurp in the Puketiro case. That has major implications for other potential wind sites like Mount Climie and Belmont Regional Park.
After agreeing to restart the BHFFP management plan consultation, GWRC has continually said the process has to wait for further information from the developer on their requirements for the project. In effect, say the citizens, the contract would govern the management plans - a clear breach of natural justice, according to the plaintiffs. Court was the last resort.
Pauatahanui Futures Society Inc.'s statement of claim says, amongst other things, that the entire consultation process is flawed because GWRC is guilty of bias as it "holds positions as both a decision maker and a contractual party with pecuniary interest in the outcome".
The action filed yesterday urges the Court to declare that the entire consultation process is invalid and order GWRC to start over.
Pauatahanui Futures claims GWRC's silence and do-nothing attitude on a new management plan has in mind 30 June. That's the date on which a legislation change which GWRC got from Parliament several years ago goes into effect to revoke all former laws about management plans for GWRC park and forest lands.
Since councils had been given 'natural competence' by the Government, this could mean, say the plaintiffs, that GWRC can do pretty much anything it wants to with any of its public lands, without hindrance.
That could lead to the rapid development of the long-mooted but formerly illegal (according to the plaintiffs and GWRC's own legal advice) 60-turbine Belmont Regional Park wind farm. GWRC's management plan for Belmont has been in progress for several years, without ever reaching a public draft for comment. Only one public meeting was ever held to gauge public sentiment about the park plan.
PFS Inc chairman Bruce Smith says the court action is necessary as the council has continued to ignore its own legal advice and the submissions from local residents calling for a re-opening of public consultation.
"The council's apparent lack of interest in listening to community concerns is disappointing. Our members have tried to work with the council to resolve the issues, but have been consistently sidelined," Mr Smith said.