Thursday, April 19, 2007

Te Waka decision

Yesterday the Environment Court released its decision into Unison's 111 MW Te Waka windfarm expansion, overruling the Hastings District Council and declining the consent. Four groups, including two local iwi, had challenged the consent on the grounds that the proposed site of the wind farm had significant landscape value, and significant cultural value to local iwi, both of which would be "desecrated" by the visual impact of the wind farm. The Environment Court agreed:

“Important as the issues of climate change and the use of renewable sources of energy unquestionably are, they cannot dominate all other values.

The adverse effects of the proposal on what is undoubtedly an outstanding landscape, and its adverse effects on the relationship of Maori with this land and the values it has for them, clearly bring us to the conclusion that the tipping point in favour of other values has been reached,” said the decision.

(Naturally, the Dominion-Post reported the decision as being all about Maori spiritual values...)

This is going to be a significant decision. Various windfarm projects (including Motorimu in Manawatu,and Project Hayes in Otago) are currently being challenged on the basis of their visual impact on the landscape. The Environment Court has just said that there are limits - though those limits seem to be quite high (a key factor was the cumulative visual impact with other wind farms in the area). Expect a lot of anti-wind farm groups to be pointing at this in future consent hearings.

As for the decision itself, I don't have a problem with it. The RMA process is about balancing values - the values laid out in the Act, the values of the local community as laid out in its plans and policies, and the value of proposed developments. In this case, that balance favoured an outstanding natural landscape (a view that I have some sympathy for). But that doesn't mean that it will everywhere, or that wind-farm projects will no longer be able to gain consent. Neither is it an excuse, as Gerry Brownlee insists, for gutting the RMA. There are plenty of potential sites which are not outstanding natural features, where wind farms will have few problems gaining consent.

Unison is reportedly planning to appeal the decision, and whatever you think of it, that should be welcomed. A High Court judgement will clarify the law and give us all more certainty on where the balance lies.