Veteran George Cunningham has been involved in the quarrying industry for as long as it takes to earn a retirement pension. HUGH DE LACY caught up with him recently.
A QUARRY IS LIKE a huge ship out on the ocean where changes in direction can take miles to effect, and accordingly have to be planned way in advance.
That’s the view of George Cunningham, former branch chair of the IOQ and AQA, and who launched his career at the Horokiwi quarry in Wellington in 1952.
He’s seen quarries driven out of Auckland, despite the city’s huge volcanic rock resource, and watched nimby battles being fought throughout the country, as though the industry were some great pariah undermining the living standards of the local citizenry.
And as Auckland hauls its rock from quarries ever-further north and south at ever-increasing expense, and Christchurch battles to get access to city-fringe resources long since identified as being available and suitable for purpose, Cunningham’s lengthy experience tells him that the best tool for dealing with such challenges is the comprehensive Quarry Management Plan (QMP).
“No rock quarrying or alluvial gravel pit should proceed without having an appropriate QMP for each site,” he bluntly tells Q&M.
He sees at least six key functions of a QMP covering sites that are “individual and unique,” requiring “a site-specific QMP ideally before activity is commenced.”
The first aim of a QMP should, he says, be to maximise the recovery of marketable resources – be they rock, gravel or sand – on a given site, so none of its potential is left locked up as it nears the end of its useful life.
Secondly, the QMP must identify the potential health and safety hazards and develop operational plans around minimising them.
Next, it should identify potential adverse environmental effects and plan to nip them in the bud before they can flower into public resentment.
The good QMP will also identify the final land profile options to leave choices for the ongoing activity on a given site, be it landfill, pasture, wetland, industrial, residential or recreational.
It should estimate the site’s likely costs of production, which ultimately determines its financial viability.
Finally, George sees a good QMP as; “providing harmony with the local community during the life of the activity.”
Which all sounds well and good, he’s the first to concede, but too often such basic precepts are ignored, or implemented too late to avoid the fierce backlash of neighbours fearful of the effects on their property values of having a quarry nearby.
Nor is this just theory: Cunningham has seen the value of a good QMP in operation throughout a quarry’s lifetime.
In 1968 George became the manager of the long-established Puketutu Island quarry in Mangere, Auckland.
Up to that time it had operated under short-term renewals of a Grant of Quarrying Rights but, to convince the landowning trust of the benefits of a 30-year term, he produced a QMP.
He even constructed a billiard table-size scale model of the areas to be quarried, with jigsaw pieces that could be replaced to show the outcome of the proposed rehabilitation works.
It resulted in a 30-year grant being entered into.
“These days, with the use of computer imaging and surveying by drone, the preparation of a QMP is far simpler, quicker and more accurate,” says George.
In 1988 he was part of a team that prepared a QMP and resource consent application under the much-maligned Town and Country Planning Act – replaced by the Resource Management Act four years later – on behalf of Milburn (now Holcim) for a new quarry at Bombay.
That quarry is now at or near the end of its resource life, and Cunningham says he knows of no adverse events recorded during those three decades.
He’s proud of the quarry’s record and of his contribution to it, to the degree that to this day he keeps the original copy of the QMP in his bottom drawer.
Seven years after starting at Horokiwi, George got his A grade certificate in quarry management, and spent the next 17 years running the quarrying division of Wilkins and Davies Construction (W&D).
He was involved in W&D projects in Indonesia, and at one stage was seconded to the Malaysian Government in Sabah as its quarrying and aggregate production consultant.
He saw Prime Minister Sir Robert Muldoon’s Think Big projects come and go, and In 1988, a year after taking early retirement from W&D, founded his own specialist quarry consultancy company, Porchester Agencies, registered as such with the then Ministry of External Trade.
Under the Porchester banner he provided advocacy services to the AQA until 2002.
As the quarrying industry battles to maintain access to the rock on which all of society’s economic systems are based, George points the finger at central and local government for consistently failing to plan far enough into the future for their aggregate needs.
“Both central and local government and their agencies treat quarrying and aggregate production as a light-switch industry: they want to switch it on to provide materials when and where they want them, then turn it off when they’ve got them.”
Yet both levels of government seem to ignore their long-term responsibility to ensure adequate supplies of rock that don’t also come with a price tag massively inflated by getting them from remote sites to where they’re needed.
“Millions of tonnes of high-quality basalt rock remain in-situ within the Mount Wellington, Penrose, East Tamaki and Wiri areas of Auckland, but are inaccessible due to the ignorance of planners and councils, and the pressure from commerce to get quick release of land for growth.”
George Cunningham has no doubt that the public holds strong anti-quarrying views, and that it’s the quarry operators who are most frequently targeted for slagging.
However, the real culprit, he says, is central and local government short-sightedness in the face of demand for rock that they should be addressing decades in advance, not leaving to the vagaries of planning consent court battles precipitated by an immediate need.