Inland port biosecurity risk 'unacceptable'

A proposed $3 billion inland port development on the edge of Hamilton poses an unacceptable biosecurity risk to residents and Waikato's highly productive farmland, opponents say.

Tainui Group Holdings and Chedworth Properties have requested a plan change to the current Hamilton City District Plan to allow them to accelerate development of a commercial hub and inland port at Ruakura.

The application will be heard by a board of inquiry appointed by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) starting May 6.

Silverdale resident and professor of biochemistry Roberta Farrell submitted in opposition to the plan change saying biosecurity risks associated with an inland port had not been adequately addressed.

Because the port would be sited next to residential areas and lifestyle blocks, Tainui Group Holdings and Chedworth Properties planned to use planting as a visual screen around the development, Farrell said.

Areas under high tension power line corridors would also be made "green areas".

"These plantings and green zones will increase the risk that exotic pests could establish quickly and move undetected into both urban and rural areas," Farrell said.

"The residents' groups strongly state that we should not expose either the highly productive Waikato farmland or the residents of Hamilton to the very real risks associated with biological invasions."

Farrell said the Ministry of Primary Industries had specific guidelines for "transitional facilities" such as inland ports and believed Ruakura's distance from Auckland and Tauranga ports presented another danger that "risk material" could be distributed in transit.

In reply, Tainui Group Holdings chief executive Mike Pohio said he respected and understood some residents' concerns around biosecurity but a robust framework would be in place to mitigate any risks.

"One of the country's greatest concerns is the import of goods into New Zealand. Biosecurity controls operate at the Port of Auckland and Port of Tauranga and are managed by customs and MAF," Pohio said.

"As we fast-forward into the operationalising of Ruakura as a destination for containerised goods coming into the country those same controls that apply at the borders and other inland ports will apply at Ruakura."

Pohio said containers already travelled from Tauranga along the east coast main trunk line into Auckland "and we place reliance that those border controls are effective".

Farrell said between seven and eight resident groups were engaged in tactical planning and information exchange ahead of next month's hearing.

"So it's not some random neighbourhood that are saying we don't want this development in our backyard rather it's the whole surrounding area," she said.

Waikato Times