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Sugar Loaf

27 members of the public attended the meeting yesterday - a few in favour (mainly mussel farmers), and a strong contingent opposed - mainly Te Kouma residents. There was a great deal of unsupported rhetoric from both sides, most of which would not make it to first base in any hearing, or the Environment Court. What was clear was the determination of the residents to prevent the planned expansion, and the complete disdain for Economic Development Tsar Benjamin Day's assurances that "I am confident that a stronger operational management plan will bring about more harmony between recreational boaties, the aquaculture industry and local residents".

Overall, Mr Day looked somewhat shocked at the vehemence of the opposition expressed during the public forum. He has not been long enough to have any idea as to the strength of the opposition, and his unqualified opinions are of little value. The Council has taken a giant leap of faith in putting the carriage of this project in the hands of a totally unqualified Economic Development Manager. Gary Bowler in particular gave warning of substantial financial and legal resources being available to fight the battle to whatever degree required, and Mr Day's Report will provide ample fodder for any QC that may be brought to bear on the subject. I can hardly wait.

Of equal importance was the statement of Mayor Leach as reported in yesterday's NZ Herald that the expansion "would come at no cost to rate-payers". That is a statement that he will come to ponder in the future as the industry get down to nuts and bolts on negotiations over costs. They have no intention of paying for the entire development, though they could well afford to do so, and have every intention of lumping as much as possible on to TCDC rate-payers - of that you be sure. How on earth can Leach make this claim when at the very least , TCDC are going to have to fund the improvements to the SH 25 access, and the $500,000 quoted by Matt Busch won't come within cooee of the final cost.

By far the greatest impact was made by Russell De Luca's well constructed submission which analysed  the proposal in order to remove some of the more emotive, or irrelevant aspects as regards any hearings process. The most critical issue that he raised concerned the actual wording of the original 1992 decision, and in particular section 7 of the narrative:

"It is the Committee's opinion that the site will only be suitable for the development of limited facilities which will have to be shared by both groups. Any increase in the the use of the facility by commercial users would require provision of an alternate site........   The committee considers that even should the applications that it is considering be granted this should not be seen as setting any precedent for further development within the coastal marine area."

That could not be much clearer, but it was interesting to note that Benjamin Day brought on as support a Dr Phil Mitchell - stated to be an expert on the RMA process (who will no doubt be charging an arm and a leg for his services) who in reply to a sensible question - I think from Cr Wells "Did the original Consent in any way prevent expansion?" replied "No it does not".

Either he had not read the narrative, or he was pulling the wool over the eyes of the assembled gathering. In such ways credibility goes out the back door, and I suspect that the implications of his reply was not lost on anyone present. Russell De Luca rushed up to the top table with his submission, and the Chief Executive read out the words quoted above - that went down like lead balloon.  So much for "experts".

There is a substantial amount of information contained in the Wharf Infrastructure Location submission voted on that I will not repeat here. Suffice to say that there are a great number of observers who take the view that the process will be found to be faulty in the final instance on judicial review as regards predetermination. It is clear to anyone who examines the documents and statements to date, that the decision to support the Sugar Loaf option was never seriously challenged, and that although substantial evidence has been produced leading to the elimination of other options on either toxicity or cost grounds, there is an absence of any peer review of the information contained in the Dunbar-Smith / Reynolds proposal. This must give rise to the suspicion that there is an inbuilt bias in their Report arising from statements made at all stages that there was really only one option. 

One major problem arises from the omission of one option at an early stage, revealed in the earlier KTB Report - that of Stevenson's Quarry (Kaiaua). It seems that this occured because: 

"It was considered to have a primary flaw that from a TCDC perspective, the site is outside of the Thames Coromandel District which will eventually result in a significant loss of economic and social benefits associated witrh the industry. There also appears tro be a clear lack of support from the industry which also seriously undermines this option".

This is interesting because Mr Tom Hollings (CMFA Manager) in Public Forum stated categorically that:

"The Association has spent $250,000 on proving that Sugar Loaf was the most suitable option, and that interests and effect on others has been overstated".

This reveals that the industry was determined from the outset to resist any suggestion of change from the present site. I would suggest that any appellant court will be very interested in all of these processes and statements in arriving at a decision as to whether pre-determination had taken place.

It will also be interesting to observe the attitude that may be taken in any court review as to the relevancy of TCDC's parochial interests in the decision making process.

Cr Brljevich indicated that he would probably vote against the final decison to go for a consent unless he could be assured that the concerns of the Te Kouma residents had been satisfied. The Mayor appeared to acknowledge that this was unlikly, in spite of Mr Day's best effort. Leach - "I cannot satisfy everyone".



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Reader Comments (2)

You are pretty hard on the mayor Bill ! He was put in place by the electorate. I attended the first two hours of the meeting and have a different interpretation of his complaint about questions from the councillors about the sugarloaf wharf. It seemed to me that he was annoyed that councillors appeared not to have read the report carefully enough to ask staff questions that clarified issues for making an informed decision. As it turned out they rubber stamped the staff recommendation with minor changes hoping that a business case would confirm some pathway in the future. To me the Sugarloaf wharf site is so inappropriate and Kopu so suitable that I suspect a measure of predetermination in the report.

April 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeter H Wood,

For the life of me Peter, I can find no criticism of the Mayor in my post - other than doubting his claim that "there will be no cost to ratepayers". Just what else concerned you? I just report it as I see it, and I will have a report in this week's PP that reflects most of what I posted here - so your comment is valued. I have plenty of criticism of Mr Leach - he is not imune simply through being elected, but not specifically in this case. In fact, I thought he remained neutral on the issue - as indeed he should, but he needs to watch his statements in the press, and refute them if they are untrue, because they can come back to bite in the future, as you well know..

April 22, 2012 | Registered CommenterBill Barclay

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