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Credibility of witness questioned

The credibility of an expert witness was questioned by Meridian Energy’s counsel during an appeal hearing for the proposed Project Hayes wind farm yesterday.

Maniototo Environmental Society witness Queenstown landscape architect Paddy Baxter gave evidence in his professional opinion about the effects the 176-turbine wind farm would have on the landscape, visual, historical, and heritage values of the Lammermoor Range in Central Otago.

Mr Baxter said the overall effects of the $1.5 billion proposal would be more than minor.

In his cross-examination of the witness, Meridian counsel Andrew Beatson said the Queenstown landscape architect had last year lodged a personal submission in opposition to Project Hayes when it was the subject of a resource consent hearing in Alexandra.

A copy of Mr Baxter’s submission, which was received by the Central Otago District Council, was lodged as evidence in the appeal hearing yesterday.

Mr Beatson said he was concerned about the admissibility of Mr Baxter’s evidence. “It is very close, if not over, the boundary of what is admissible,” he said.

Judge Jon Jackson said the general opinions of Mr Baxter in regard to Project Hayes had to be “hugely devalued” by the court.

“We have to take his evidence with a grain of salt now. Mr Gordon [Maniototo Environmental Society counsel Ian Gordon] is going to have to work very hard to persuade the court to give any weight to Mr Baxter’s evidence,” Judge Jackson said.

Mr Baxter said he had forgotten about his initial submission on Project Hayes, and was concerned about it when he was later made aware of it during preparation of his evidence in chief.

“It was a busy day in the office when I signed this [submission] about 15 months ago. I completely forgot about it.

“It deals with material which is beyond my expertise and uses language I certainly would not use as an expert witness,” he said.

“I did not realise I was required to make a note of this submission in my chief evidence . . . it was not my intent to hide it.”

Mr Baxter’s submission stated the Project Hayes application failed to fully consider the issues and avoid, remedy, or mitigate the unprecedented and significant adverse effects it would have on the environment and its communities.

Judge Jackson asked Mr Beatson not to spend too much time cross-examining Mr Baxter, because his evidence would not be highly valued – if it was valued at all – by the court.

By Rosie Manins

Otago Daily Times

28 May 2008