“Westpower, the locally
owned electricity distributer and generator for Westland, had hoped to build a
20 MW hydro scheme on the Waitaha river on the South Island’s West Coast.
“The scheme would have
improved resilience of electricity supply, was aligned with national carbon
reduction priorities and would have injected millions of dollars into a part of
the country whose traditional industries are under significant pressure.
“But it also would have
reduced water flows along a pristine river, impacting recreational activities, and impacted the natural character of the area.
“This was always going
to be a difficult decision, but the fact that a local company spent millions of
dollars before a line call from a Cabinet Minister cancelled the proposal shows
how tenuous and uncertain the consenting process is in New Zealand.
“Though this was a
Conservation Act process, this is an excellent case study for the RMA review
panel chaired by retired court of appeal judge Tony Randerson.
“How do we develop a
system to optimally trade off the wider social, economic, cultural and
environmental benefits of a proposal versus negative environmental effects?
“How do we balance
local aspirations to grow and prosper against national objectives to retain
areas of national significance?
“How do we provide
guidance or accelerate decision making so that economic and social uncertainty,
waste and frustration are mitigated, along with environmental impacts?
“In a better system,
the need to expand renewable energy supply would have been part of a
coordinated regional plan for Westland, led by the region, supported by central
government, iwi and local communities, and linked to a wider programme designed
to enhance regional wellbeing.
about the significance of the Waitaha river would have been tackled through a
collaborative planning process and either the effects mitigated or alternatives
“That would have saved
everyone a lot of time and cost and instead of wondering ‘what next?’ Westland
would now be implementing an agreed strategy to lift incomes and improve the
environment,” Blair says.
For further information and comment contact Paul
Blair on 021 902 436