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Meridian disputes historical worth

Old Dunstan Rd in Central Otago provides visitors with an artificial heritage experience of early gold-miners, an Environment Court appeal hearing was told in Cromwell yesterday.

Meridian Energy claims its proposed Project Hayes wind farm, comprising 176 turbines on the Lammermoor Range, is an appropriate use of the land, which includes parts of the old Dunstan trail.

Meridian counsel Andrew Beatson said Old Dunstan Rd will be changed by the wind farm development, although such alterations would not significantly change the experience visitors had.

‘‘A key aspect of the significance of the site is that it is a place where people can still envisage first-hand the experience of a gold-miner traversing the historic route to the gold fields. This is somewhat artificial given that people are travelling along a significantly upgraded road, generally in the safety of a motor car,’’ he said.

Mr Beatson said the context and setting of the road were not essential or substantial heritage landscape features, and there was nothing strategic or essential about the views from the road.

‘‘Some interference with the current fabric of Old Dunstan Rd is required, although this is already regularly occurring with periodic roadworks and other activities at present, such as farming activities,’’ he said.

The New Zealand Historic Places Trust initially appealed the Central Otago District Council and Otago Regional Council decision to grant Meridian resource consent for Project Hayes, based on its concern about the development’s negative impact on Old Dunstan Rd.

On May 6, the trust announced its withdrawal of the appeal, following negotiation with Meridian and a subsequent agreement with the energy company.

Mr Beatson said extensive discussions between Meridian and NZHPT had satisfied the trust’s initial concerns.

‘‘With the exception of Old Dunstan Rd and a short section of water race, all known archaeological sites have been avoided by Project Hayes. Concerns about the destruction of Old Dunstan Rd are misplaced and ignore both the extent of change from the original state of this road to the current situation and the proposed rehabilitation following construction, he said.

Meridian plans to restore as well as possible the structure and appearance of Old Dunstan Rd once it has finished using the access route to its wind farm site.

During yesterday’s hearing, Meridian’s first expert witness, Tony Coggan, of Christchurch company Truescape, explained the process of generating computer simulations and photographic stills of the proposed wind farm. Meridian Energy, which is being heard first in the appeal hearing, has two more expert witnesses to give evidence on how Project Hayes would impact the landscape, visual, historical and heritage values of its proposed site.

By Rosie Manins

Otago Daily Times

20 May 2008