The country’s most controversial quarry is appealing a drawn out court decision that restricts the quarry’s operation.
Saddle Hill is a quarry working on top of a Taieri Plain landmark of the same name (recorded by Captain Cook) and located within the Dunedin City Council boundary. The operation has been in a legal stoush with the council over its extraction consents for years after any original documents going back five decades were lost.
The quarry started in 1960 supplying aggregate to build Dunedin’s airport and the public has voiced anger over the depletion of the hill since. It is estimated that in excess of a million cubic metres has been mined from the hill since the contract for the airport finished in the 1960s.
After being petitioned by local residents to protect Saddle Hill’s iconic ridgeline several years ago, the Dunedin City Council sought a court ruling on the extent of (owner) Saddle Views Estate’s right to quarry at Saddle Hill, so that any sale value of the hill could be determined.
In 2011 the council made an application for a declaration that the extent of any quarrying rights did not go beyond the current quarried area. The Environment Court decided in 2013 that there had never been a consent to quarry the hill. However, this decision was overturned by the High Court in 2014. The High Court then instructed the parties to meet and try to agree what the conditions of the original consent were.
The two parties were unable to agree on these conditions and the council then asked the Environment Court to decide the terms of the 1960 consent. A hearing was held in 2015 with a final decision issued in October this year when Judge Jamieson of the Environment Court issued three Declarations on the status of quarrying on Saddle Hill.
The first relates to the 1960 consent being limited to the purpose of supplying about 50,000 cubic yards (38,000 cubic metres) of material for the construction of the airport at Momona. The second declaration decides that the 1960 consent is no longer in force. The third declaration about whether quarrying is now authorised says this depends on whether quarrying was an existing use in 1970. The Dunedin Council says the third declaration circles back to its long held position that any current right to quarry relies on existing use rights and cannot expand and go beyond the existing quarried area, and therefore protects the hill’s saddle-shaped outline.
An interim injunction of the Environment Court now prevents the owner from quarrying outside of the existing quarried areas on the hill.
Saddle Views Estate, which owns the land and mines the quarry, still maintains it has an existing consent without restrictions, which elevates the value of the land and the operations to the extent of several million dollars.
Calvin Fisher, a director of the company, says they will appeal the decision of the Environment Court to the High court and in the meantime, quarrying will continue.
Interestingly, in the absence of any original consent documents, the Environment Court based its three Declarations on an article published in the Otago Daily Times in 1960 and produced to the Court by the Dunedin City Council.
This article proved to the satisfaction of the Court that any consent issued to Downer and Co, which operated the Saddle Hill Quarry back then, was limited to a total of 50,000 cubic yards of aggregate. The article referred to a comment made by A Swainson, a senior engineer with Downer, that 50,000 cubic yards was the maximum amount of material to be quarried.
Meantime, now the court decision as it stands means the 1960 consent for quarrying on the lower of Saddle Hill’s two humps (Jaffray Hill) has “no ongoing effect”, which protects the rest of the landmark hill without costing city ratepayer millions of dollars in compensation.