The Hurunui District Council and Canterbury Regional Council have agreed to a request from Meridian Energy to have their application for a wind farm at Greta Valley determined by the Environment Court.
At an extraordinary council meeting yesterday the councils made the decision in front of a large number of interested residents. The decision means neither consenting authority will hold hearings into the proposal, which includes 33 wind turbines up to 130.5 metres in height on the eastern side of State Highway 1 between Omihi and Greta village.
‘‘The large number of submissions received either strongly in opposition or in support, indicates that if the application is heard by council in the first instance, the likelihood of an appeal is so high, that ultimately it would be appealed to the Environment Court for a final determination anyway. Referring it directly just speeds up the inevitable,’’ Hurunui District Mayor Winton Dalley said.
There were 131 submissions on Meridian Energy’s proposal: 50 in support and 77 in opposition. Almost two-thirds (81) of the submitters had indicated they wished to be heard. ‘‘Sending the application directly to the courts means we will not be actively forced to defend a decision to grant or decline the consents, but puts us in a position to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the application and supporting evidence.
‘‘The Environment Court is also better placed to resolve technical issues particularly in the area of noise and health effects which we believe will be more robustly examined through cross examination and presentation of sworn evidence.’’
Mayor Dalley said there were significant cost advantages to the wider Hurunui community from the direct referral process. ‘‘With the alternative two-step process, if it goes to appeal, the costs can be considerable and the council has little control over them escalating because it must defend its decision if appealed.’’
He accepts some submitters may not be happy with the council’s decision to adopt the more streamlined process, made possible by a 2009 amendment to the Resource Management Act.
‘‘Locals are likely to feel more comfortable submitting in the more accessible and informal council process and local venue than the relative formality of the court.
‘‘But in this case, where an appeal is almost inevitable, because the decision is likely to be made there in any event, they will have to go through the more formal process regardless. That is the simple reality,’’ he said.
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