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The danger of prohibiting extractive activity: ‘avoid effect’

Bernie Napp Straterra QM Magazine Featured Image

A number of councils are currently reviewing and implementing new district or city plans. The signals do not look good for the extractive sector including quarries, says Straterra’s Bernie Napp.

From Auckland to Southland, councils are preparing the plans that will guide their resource management for the next decade. Here is a sample of what councils are suggesting in new plans.

“Prohibiting extractive activity (or other economic activity) in outstanding natural landscapes, everywhere there is heritage, or significant vegetation or native species.”

So, if there is a pile of stones left by old-timers 150 years ago where you would like to extract rock or minerals – sorry, no.

Of course, that is not how it is put. The proposed plan provision will say: “avoid effects” in areas where section 6 of the RMA applies. Or it will say “protect and enhance”.

Many of us now know that following the 2014 Supreme Court decision on King Salmon’s proposal to farm salmon at a site in Port Gore in the Marlborough Sounds, “avoid effects” means exactly that. While a Board of Inquiry acknowledged the salmon farm would impact on an adjacent area of outstanding natural landscape/character, it found the “compelling” benefits the site provided for aquaculture required a “balanced” approach to be taken.

The Supreme Court said this was wrong in law and avoiding adverse effects on natural landscape/character could not be overruled. Directions to “avoid effects” and “protect and enhance” the environment in these areas are the same as a blanket prohibition on all economic development. Councils are now attempting to implement that finding in their new plans.

Next are biodiversity offsets. In 2014 the government released good practice guidance on this tool for managing the effects on biodiversity of development to a measurable standard of “no net loss”.

It sounds great; unfortunately, the guidance on the Department of Conservation website is unworkable.

Some planning proposals would have biodiversity offsets as a mandatory requirement when managing the residual effects of development after avoiding, remedying and mitigating effects on site. That is another way of saying ‘no’ to almost all development, anywhere.

The plan proposals are now also saying that farming is a better use of rural land than any other. Apparently farming landscapes are beautiful, including the roads, pivot irrigators and shelter belts. I have nothing against these things but whatever happened to the idea of allocating resources to their highest-value use?

A variant of the above is the plan provisions that say that earthworks from any extractive activity would be prohibited in specified areas, but the same earthworks for anything else is okay. Ditto for water treatment or discharges and management of waste rock. Surely, it is a question of which activities are appropriate in a particular context, and which are not.

A further concern is the cumulative effects of development. Naturally, councils would like to manage the issue of “death by 1000 cuts”; however, that could prevent changes to existing electricity schemes, tourism infrastructure, roading and other infrastructure, as well as mines and, in particular, quarries.

The producers of the aggregate that councils need for the flood protection works now won’t be allowed to expand. Councils who prohibit extractive activity will be prevented from repairing flood protection works to avoid cumulative effects. Even if councils do get consents to repair the flood protection works, they may not be able to access the gravel, if it entails changes to an existing quarry.

Dialogue around prohibiting extractive activity is playing out right now in Auckland, Thames Coromandel, South Taranaki, Canterbury, Christchurch district, Otago, Queenstown Lakes, Marlborough and Southland, with landscape planning due to start shortly in Tasman District (Golden Bay).

Straterra is busy participating in RMA planning processes around the country, with the input of locally-affected members and companies and organisations including AQA. We are also working with central government on these very questions.

Straterra thinks these plan developments are against the letter, spirit and intent of the RMA and much of it defies logic or common-sense. If New Zealand could afford to turn the country into one large national park, that would be fine.

The reality is that we still need an economy, and a large part of that is based on the development of natural resources. This is not about destroying the environment; it is about the wise and responsible use of resources. It is our contention that the RMA already provides for that. Councils don’t need to apply another layer of complexity and cost.

Where adverse cumulative effects on the environment have occurred in New Zealand, it is possible that resource consents were granted when they should not have been, or were granted subject to inadequate conditions. Where that has occurred, that is a failure of decision-making, and not of the law as such.


  • Bernie Napp is policy manager for Straterra which represents New Zealand’s minerals and mining sector and works closely with AQA.

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