The Lammermoor Range is of district significance, but stops short of being outstanding, according to a confidential landscape report obtained under the Official Information Act.
The report was commissioned by the Central Otago District Council and presented by Meridian Energy on the last day of the Project Hayes wind farm hearing last week.
Meridian counsel Andrew Beatson said his client had obtained the report through the Official Information Act and thought it surprising the information had been withheld from both Meridian and the hearings panel. It was clearly relevant and the three district council members had already seen it.
Mr Beatson said the report showed the Lammermoor Range, the site of the proposed wind farm, to be of above average quality but not of such quality as to be outstanding. This corroborated Meridian’s material, which showed the area was of no particular significance, Mr Beatson said.
Panel chairman John Matthews said the panel was already aware of the report, and that three of the commissioners were Central Otago district councillors. However, he had ruled it should not be taken into account unless it was presented during the hearing.
He was still uncertain what weight it should be given as it was a draft report for internal council purposes and not yet public, but told Mr Beatson the panel would accept it as part of his closing evidence.
Council planning and environment manager Louise van der Voort said it was important to note the report was still in its draft form.
It was intended to be used as some of kind of attachment to the council’s district plan, although it was still uncertain exactly how it would be used.
The report was done as part of the council’s rural study, started in 2005 in response to increasing concern from within the council and the community about the potential adverse effects from increasing subdivision and residential development in the rural area. The report was not prepared because of the Project Hayes proposal, Ms van der Voort said.
The landscape assessment in the report was carried out by Mary Buckland, from Auckland landscape architecture firm LA4, which was chosen after the project went out to tender. Her brief was to identify landscape units of consistent character, assess landscape values, determine how vulnerable landscapes were to change, and develop a landscape ranking.
The council also carried out public consultation at the same time as the LA4 assessment was taking place, from July 2005 to February 2006. This included three rounds of community meetings in rural towns, questionnaires and meetings with groups such as the Department of Conservation, the Otago Regional Council, Federated Farmers, Fish and Game, the Forest and Bird Society and Ngai Tahu.
A wide range of views was received and it was unlikely that everyone would be happy with the end result, the council report said. However, the overwhelming consensus was that a more flexible approach would be better for the district.
For example, in some areas, subdivision down to one or two hectares would be appropriate, whereas in other areas much larger subdivisions would be better.
There was concern about the district’s water and sewerage services being able to cope with extensive development, and a preference that future development be encouraged in and next to existing settlements rather than being allowed to spread across the rural area.
However, other landowners were concerned the rural study might limit choice, and that their private property rights would be affected.
By Pam Jones
18 July 2007