Christchurch’s raucous NIMBY (not in my backyard) voices are in full cry as Fulton Hogan battles for a long-designated new quarry site. HUGH DE LACY reports.
MIKE HIGGINS BLAMES the planners for the mounting supply problems in aggregate-rich Christchurch that are reflected in the bitter opposition to Fulton Hogan opening a new quarry near Templeton, south of the city.
Mike, a member of the Aggregate and Quarry Association (AQA) board who works for J Swap Contractors, tells Q&M he has some sympathy for local residents battling against Fulton Hogan’s resource consent application to quarry the 175-hectare Dawsons Road site for 40 years, but their anger would be better directed at the planning staff of Christchurch City Council and the Environment Canterbury Regional Council (ECan).*
Dawsons Road is not in a densely populated area – there are a few houses, a caravan park, some businesses and a Buddhist temple nearby – but to judge from the stridence of the opposition to it, it might as well be on such sacred turf as Hagley Park.
Fulton Hogan needs a new site because its existing Pound Road quarry is all but worked out, and the Miners Road one is getting that way.
Both sites are in decades-old quarry zones identified in the days of the Paparoa County Council and adopted into the Christchurch City plan.
The only remaining large quarriable sites within Christchurch city are owned by the city council, ECan and the government.
Fulton Hogan has promised not to quarry near houses, but the presumed din and traffic congestion from the proposed Dawsons Road quarry are its opponents’ main bugbears.
Toxic silica dust has joined these ancient shibboleths as a reason for quarries being anywhere but in the protesters’ backyard.
Respirable crystalline silica can be a toxic by-product of quarrying, causing the disease silicosis, as well as triggering pulmonary problems and, in extreme cases, cancer, but it can also be easily controlled by water sprinklers.
It’s a measure of the bitterness engendered by Fulton Hogan’s application that silica dust monitors set up by measuring company Mote on ECan’s behalf have been tampered with.
This occurred just a short time after the monitors were installed near Yaldhurst, west of Christchurch, on January 31, suggesting that truth will once again be the first victim of the battle between the quarrying industry and entrenched local interests.
And far from Fulton Hogan taking the public stick for attempting to meet a public need, Mike reckons the stick should be poked sharply at district and regional planners that have allowed developments in the interim that are at odds with the need for quarries.
“[The protesters] should be blaming the planners – they have the tools to ensure an adequate and ongoing aggregates supply, so when it comes to opening up a new quarry it’s the quarrying company that cops the public backlash,” Mike says.
The 2010-2011 earthquakes, which created a sharp spike in demand for building and roading aggregates throughout Canterbury, have certainly exacerbated the situation, Mike concedes, but the core problem is that planners allowed other landowners in the vicinity of quarry zones to engage in activities that could be impacted by quarries.
“Planners could have said, ‘In 20 years’ time you can expect quarries in this area’.
“There are tools available to the planners to provide for future quarrying, but this option hasn’t been exercised.”
Mike reckons the Dawsons Road site is ideal for quarrying given its closeness to SH1 and the South Island Main Trunk railway.
He compares its freedom of access with Fulton Hogan’s recently consented Clevedon Quarry south of Auckland, the access roads of which he describes as “atrocious” and needing big bucks to rectify.
Fulton Hogan has agreed to improve the roads and accept tight limits on its hours of truck movements out of Clevedon, which is the closest place to the market but already costly in terms of cartage distances.
“Cartage is what kills quarrying so it’s vital to have aggregate sources close to where they’ll be used, and it’s the planners rather than the quarries that are best positioned to determine where they need to be.
“However, unlike Canterbury, Auckland rock doesn’t normally occur where it’s needed.”
The significance of cartage distance to the cost of supplying aggregates was demonstrated recently in South Westland when the Department of Conservation was granted consent to quarry 5000 tonnes of rock and 500 cubic metres of bulk-fill gravel from conservation land near Franz Josef, because the only other source of materials to bolster its walking track to the glacier was too far away to be economic.
Before the quakes the Canterbury region was using around six million tonnes of aggregates a year, but the subsequent rebuild sent this up to eight million tonnes per annum.
To meet this need required just over 27 hectares of land a year quarried to a depth of eight metres, compared to 37.5 hectares since the quakes.
A good half of that – say, 18 to 27 hectares, or the equivalent of between 178 and 267 quarter-acre sections per year – is destined for Christchurch itself.
Last year Harewood Gravels had its consent for a new 28-hectare quarry on Conservators Road, consented along with about 275 hectares of other quarry applications by the City Council in 2016, struck down by the Environment Court, which reckoned it was one too many for the area.
Harewood is appealing that decision, but even if the company is successful it will meet the city’s aggregate needs for barely 18 months.
Mike said the AQA is seeking to have long-term quarry planning conducted at a national rather than a regional or local government level where entrenched interests can exert disproportionate influence on local politicians and bureaucrats.
The question of cartage from quarries should also be a question of environmental significance to central government, Mike says, with the need to have quarries close to the point of aggregate usage adopted as a key element in the government’s efforts to contain oil-driven global warming.
Mike notes that such big-picture environmental considerations as transport pollution are ignored by, for example, the local news media, which are quickly drawn into siding with opposition to quarries, defending their subscription and advertising bases as energetically as politicians defend their voter support.
Fulton Hogan has gone into media lockdown over Dawsons Road, but at the same time extended quarry opponents an olive branch in the form of its request to the Selwyn District Council to notify its consent application under the Resource Management Act, something it is not required to do.
The local news media has jumped on the bandwagon by interpreting this gesture, intended to ensure that all the facts around the issue are brought to light, as “a small victory“ for the opposition.
Mike Higgins hopes that Fulton Hogan sticks to its guns and gets its Dawsons Road site consented, but he expects the company’s in for a long and expensive battle that will contribute to force up the cost of aggregate for housing and roading.
*Fulton Hogan was approached for comment on this subject by the author, but declined to comment.
This article was first published in the April-May issue of Q&M.