Farmer gets second chance

PENNY WARDLE
Last updated 10:05 26/07/2013
Environment Court
Emma Allen

Environment Court panel visit Philip Woolley's property off Hunters Rd, Tuamarina. Judges Russell Howie, Jeff Smith, and Carron Blom

Philip Woolley
EMMA ALLEN/Fairfax NZ
NO PLEA: Dairy farmer Philip Woolley is facing 52 charges.

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A Marlborough dairy farmer at the centre of an Environment Court hearing  in Blenheim faces a ''no back-chat'' ban that would prevent him approaching compliance officers.

But Philip Woolley is unlikely to be ordered to introduce radical reforms at his Awarua Farm at Tuamarina near Blenheim, as the Marlborough District Council had requested.

Speaking at the close of a two-day hearing,  Judge Jeff Smith said he was likely to order Mr Woolley to farm strictly to the conditions of a resource consent as requested by his lawyer, David Clark.  But this would force him to appoint someone to take a daily interest in the operation of his farm, which was the subject of complaints relating to rotting carcasses and soiled roads.

''Otherwise you'll be back in a month,'' the judge warned. 

''You can have the flashest system in the world but it won't work if you don't manage it.''

Mr Woolley shifted the blame for consent breaches to his farm managers and staff, saying he was often off the property and didn't own a cellphone.

''There has been the odd hiccup'', Mr Woolley said. 

''Sometimes contract milkers have not looked after it as good as maybe they should have. We operate the system to achieve best environmental outcomes but are not in a position to physically supervise them so have to rely on their competence.''

Judge Smith warned Mr Woolley that the council would prosecute if he failed to comply and that it was much more serious to breach court enforcement orders than Resource Management Act requirements.

His ruling was likely to combine requirements and milestones, Judge Smith said.

The areas covered could include restricting how much effluent could be applied to pasture, electronic monitoring, record-keeping and responses to inevitable breakdowns.

A certified effluent management plan would end uncertainty over how much effluent could be stored at Awarau Farm.

Council staff were entitled to inspect his farm at any time in daylight hours and should not be intimidated, Judge Smith he told Mr Woolley, who had argued that visits without warning were unfair.

''I don't like officers being threatened,'' Judge Smith said. 

''They end up bringing police and it becomes a sledgehammer approach.''

The council would not get off the hook, Judge Smith said.  The enforcement order was likely to require spot inspections and water-quality monitoring and regular reporting back to the court.

Because Mr Woolley had no prosecutions for breaching consents at Awarua Farm the court had to be fair and take a conservative approach, Judge Smith said.

Council lawyer Peter Radich said the council would support this approach if the requirements were comprehensive. If it did not work, the council would certainly prosecute.

Mr Woolley said he had plans to make better use of his property in less than 10 years.  Managing a farm was ''bloody difficult'' but meanwhile he was happy to take the responsibility on board. 

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Judge Smith expects to release a final decision in four to six weeks 

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- The Marlborough Express

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