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Mackenzie Basin dairy developers

Friday 19th March 2010

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The property development companies backing the Mackenzie Basin cubicle dairy farming proposals are gaming the resource consent application process by withdrawing from the government-ordered Board of Inquiry into its water discharge consents, says Environment Minister Nick Smith. 

"The process is being gamed," he told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme. If the process was working well, the applications for both taking and discharging water would be processed in parallel, said Smith, instead of three separate processes for water rights, land-use rights and water discharge rights. 

While a single process would be possible under amendments to the Resource Management Act last year, the Mackenzie Basin proposals pre-date those changes, and Smith was only able to use his ministerial powers under the RMA to "call in" the water discharge consent applications. 

Southdown Holdings, Williamson Holdings and Five Rivers announced last night they were withdrawing the effluent applications for their proposals to farm 18,000 cows using a European "cubicle farming" method.

However, the companies will continue with their application for rights to take water for the operation, which is well-advanced and can continue. The venture already holds land use consents, which are subject to legal challenge by the Environmental Defence Society. Effluent discharges equivalent to a town of 250,000 would be produced from the operation, which its supporters say produces milk twice as efficiently as traditional New Zealand dairy practice and is "greener" than traditional pastoral dairy farming. 

"The irony of our situation is that stable-style farming is the way of the future if New Zealand is committed to environmentally sustainable farming," Richard Peacocke, a Southdown director, said in a statement. He predicted that with greater understanding of the proposals, New Zealanders would see it back on the agenda within two or three years. 

The decision comes a day after the latest monitoring report under the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord showed dairy farmers going backwards nationally in improving the quality of water discharged from farms. 

Smith said he made no apology for the estimated $2.6 million in costs estimated by the Ministry for the Environment for the call-in process. The project was "of extraordinary scale". 

"It's not unreasonable when we’re dealing with public resources which are being used for commercial enterprise, for them to meet the cost of the robust process that's required to deal with the very considerable environmental issues," Smith told Radio New Zealand. 

The cubicle method was a "completely foreign farming style in New Zealand" and the costs of testing its applicability in this country should fairly fall on a developer hoping to build a business with annual turnover of around $30 million.

Lachlan McKenzie, Federated Farmers Dairy chairman, said the withdrawal highlights the unreasonable costs imposed on developers, which is stopping economic development.

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