Silly justifications for tree law

September 7th, 2009 at 6:15 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Homeowners whose trees are illegally chopped down by neighbours will no longer be able to count on council help once a proposed law change likely to become final this week is passed.

What is not made clear is that only if the tree was protected, would the Council get involved anyway. And personalyl it is inane to try and justify a law that prevents a homeowner from trimming or felling their own trees, on the grounds that by banning homeowners from being able to fell their own trees, you also ban neighbours from felling your trees.

If there really is a problem with legions of neighbours sneaking onto properties in the middle of the night and chopping down trees, then deal with that problem directly – don’t pretend that the current law which imposes significant costs on homeowners with “protected” trees is the answer.

During a recent subdivision case, the Environment Court had accepted evidence that “quite a number” of people illegally chopped trees on someone else’s land to improve their views and/or sunlight, she said.

But few prosecutions were made because it was often difficult to prove who had done it “even when it was clear who would havebenefited”.

And in fact we find out that the number of times this law has actually helped a homeowner against tree cutting neighbours is so low you can probably count on one hand.

While the number of homeowners who have had to spend both money and time on getting permission to trim or chop their own trees is well into the thousands as I understand it – maybe tens of thousands.

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They are not your trees Brian

September 4th, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Brian Rudman writes:

So tell me again, and slowly: we have a Government that in one breath is trying to find a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions, yet in the next is fast-tracking a law declaring open season on every urban tree in the land.

Now you read that and you would think Rudman is talking about great swathes of urban forests  under threat. The Government is going to let developers destroy the Wellington Town Belt etc.

Alas the true story is far less exciting. What he Government is doing is allowing home owners to trim or chop down the trees they own on their private land. And even then, it is not absolute. They are merely saying that Councils have to have a valid reason to list individual trees as warranting protection, rather than list entire classes of trees.

So what this means is a homeowner will be able to chop down one of their own trees, or trim it, should they wish to do so. The thought this have any impact on carbon emissions is pathetically hysterical. We’re not talking hectares of forests here, but generally individual trees being trimmed or replaced.

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More hysteria

June 17th, 2009 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

No Right Turn cries out:

Not content with turning Auckland into a dictatorship to prepare it for National’s Wellington-imposed gerrymander, the government is now planning a wider assault on local government democracy, with Environment Minister Nick Smith threatening to appoint administrators to run eight councils if they don’t improve their handling of resource consents.

The Minister certainly has this power (the relevant section is s25 of the RMA), but it has never been used, and for obvious reasons. Local authorities are democratically elected and accountable to the people. Replacing them, even in the area of resource consent planning and processing, with an unelected administrator removes that accountability. It silences local voices and crushes local democracy. And that is simply not acceptable in a democratic society.

I always enjoy having a diehard supporter of the Electoral Finance Act talk about silencing voices and crushing democracy. I mean really.

Nowhere in the rant does Idiot/Savant offer any criticism of the Councils for the reason they are being threatened with Administrators. It is because they are consistently breaking the law and failing to process resource consents in time. Local bodies are not above the law, and frankly it would be a good thing for them to suffer consequences for sticking it to everday residents by not processing resource conensts within the time frame set out in law. This is not crushing local democracy – this is ensuring local Councils are not above the law.

Also NRT fails to grasp that the Minister has not appointed Administrators. He is using his power to do so as a threat, so that they improve their performance and start obeying the law. This is a good thing.

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Protest in Taranaki

March 24th, 2009 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Maori Affairs minister has pledged support for a North Taranaki hapu as it continues to occupy land and hold up an oil company’s drilling project.

Last night about 25 members of the Otaraua hapu prepared for their second night blocking access to a site being used by Greymouth Petroleum for a new pipeline to Te Kowhai gasfield off Ngatimaru Rd at Tikorangi.

The hapu took over on Sunday after claims work would desecrate Tikorangi Pa, a waahi tapu (sacred) site, which is not protected by the district plan.

So why is it not protected:

New Plymouth District Council consents manager Ralph Broad said the site was not protected under the district plan because it had been left off a list of waahi tapu sites provided by local iwi and hapu.

So why is the company at fault? Why is no one asking questions of why the hapu did not include it on the list?

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples said he was “deeply disappointed” by the situation and said Maori interests needed to be taken more seriously.

He said the company should have consulted with the hapu despite not legally being required to do so.

“It shows ignorance by the companies that they can go ahead without thinking. I would expect to see consultation with iwi,” he said.

With all due respect I disagree with Dr Sharples. It is primarily the role of the Council to consult with iwi and hapu (which they did) and mark on the distract plans areas of special significance. Only if a resource consent relates to one of those areas would you expect consultation. I don’t agree that each and every resource consent should require consultation – this is the whole purpose of the District Plan.

Hapu plans to take the issues to the environment court and seek an interim enforcement order to halt works that had been put off until today.

And that is the appropriate thing to do – more productive than protesting outside against a company that has obeyed the law.

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Why the RMA needed reform

March 21st, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Today’s NZ Herald editorial is a timely reminder of why the RMA needed reform:

When the supermarket chain Foodstuffs made the decision to establish a Pak ‘n Save on North Shore’s Wairau Rd, the internet had just been invented, cellphones were the size of bricks, Auckland’s boroughs were being amalgamated into four cities and the Resource Management Act had arrived.

Actually it was the Web that had just been invented, not the Internet.

So began a 20 year saga in the councils, courts and tribunals of environmental appeal that ended quietly on Wednesday’s deadline for an appeal against Foodstuffs’ latest consent. Finally its rival, Progressive Enterprises, appears to have given up.

Under the new proposed law, competitors can not use the Act to try and stop competition.

Whatever its commercial success, the supermarket will stand as a stark symbol of the follies of planning law that invites objections too widely and permits too many appeals. Applicants and objectors needs only a fair hearing and a decisive ruling. This case has been a disgrace.

It has been. Yet the Greens and Labour are against the new law.

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Alarmism

March 12th, 2009 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald has a scary headline:

Law changes could see open season on trees

This sounds very bad doesn’t it. And the opening paragraph:

Councils say they will not be able to stop people cutting down native bush and coastal pohutukawa in cities under planned changes to environment laws.

And this sounds even worse, It conjures up thoughts of scores of people maurading through cities choppng down native trees they don’t like. They even has this photo of a huge pohutukawa in a park.

heraldtree

But what is the law change really about. We see this in the third paragraph:

If the change goes ahead, landowners will be free to cut down any tree on their land unless it is listed in their council’s district plan.

So we have this misleading photo, headline and opening paragraph. What the law change is about is what citizens can do to the trees they own on the land they own.

A massive difference.

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Wind farm declined due to spiritual values

February 26th, 2009 at 11:27 am by David Farrar

Sigh. The Dom Post reports:

An application to build a wind farm near Napier has been declined for the second time by the Environment Court because the site is spiritually significant to Maori.

The Hawke’s Bay-based powerline company Unison applied to add 34 turbines to 15 already approved for a site on Te Waka Range near Te Pohue, on the Napier-Taupo Road. …

Unison was poor at consultation and appeared to have approached iwi as an afterthought. “We’re not opposed to wind farms, we understand the need for renewable energy,” she said. “But not on this site. This is our sacred mountain. We are duty-bound to protect it.”

I don’t think any mountain is sacred. I can understand the decision if the turbines were planned for say a burial place.

I can accept arguments over a mountain’s conservation or scenic values. I wouldn’t back wind turbines on Mt Cook for example. But arguments about a mountain’s spirtual values have no place in court.

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Ralston on National

February 22nd, 2009 at 9:02 am by David Farrar

Bill Ralston writes in the HoS:

Six months ago Labour was constantly telling us that John Key was weak, untrustworthy and devious, while his National Party was little more than a bunch of washed-up hacks, bereft of ideas and vision. “Slippery John”. “It’s all about trust”. Those were Labour’s chants.

It was a strategy aimed at destroying Key’s credibility and it almost worked but, despite their suspicions, enough voters closed their eyes, crossed their fingers and put their ticks on the ballot paper for National.

Having now discovered those fears were groundless we seem to be giving National the longest honeymoon any government has enjoyed.

I predict that in 2011 Labour’s campaign will not be the same as their 2008 one.

This surge in goodwill is driven by three things. The first is sheer relief. Relief that, despite Labour’s Chicken Little predictions, the sky did not fall when National came to power.

The second is that Key appears to be the ideal personification of the Government he leads. Yes, he can be a bit goofy at times.

If you don’t believe me check out the shot of him dancing with two transvestites at the Big Gay Out. That is definitely goofy. But if Helen Clark was cold and aloof, Key seems warm, natural and approachable.

Key seems that way because he is.

Daily we see news stories detailing some minister taking strong action on some problem that has long affected the country.

Amazingly, most of these actions are based on National’s election promises and they are being fulfilled. Even if you don’t agree with them all, it is somehow reassuring to see them doing what they promised to do.

The Government is very focused on keeping its promises. Hence calls for National to break its word and (for example) cancel tax cuts, or abolish the ETS are pretty futile.

Thanks to Nick Smith, once his changes to the RMA go through, I will never again have to apply for a Resource Consent to trim my garden, the council will not have to spend many hours pondering my botanical behaviour and the ratepayers of Auckland will not be wasting hundreds of dollars every time someone in this city wants to do some gardening.

Soumds like a win-win.

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Herald on RMA reform

February 4th, 2009 at 10:11 am by David Farrar

The Herald Editorial proclaims:

John Key said the recession added fresh urgency to the need for changes. In reality, however, these were overdue whatever the economic climate. In the 18 years since its well-intentioned introduction, the act has struggled to be a credible vehicle for genuinely sustainable resource use. Most fundamentally, the mechanisms for issuing consents have been too easily abused. Commercial rivals have used them to handicap competitors by lodging objections, neighbours have settled scores by refusing to consent to housing extensions and suchlike, and too many developers have been at the mercy of rival claimants to tangata whenua status and been charged excessive consultation fees. The upshot in all instances has been unacceptable costs and delays.

We have effectively flushed hundreds of millions of dollars down the drain due to consenting delays.

But, in one respect, Mr Key’s hands have been tied. Notably absent is a proposal to remove references to the Treaty of Waitangi and Maori cultural and spiritual values. It was part of National’s election manifesto but has fallen foul of the new relationship with the Maori Party. Now, somewhat lamely, the Government says the dropping of the Treaty clause has been rendered unnecessary by case law and improved practices.

Welcome to MMP. The jury will be out on this issue, until we see some cases under the revised law. If projects still face significant delays because of arguments over the “life-force” of a river, I won’t be too impressed.

Already, however, the Government has ventured into areas that its green-tinged predecessor would have avoided. In the main, it has trod carefully. In quick time, it has arrived at a better balanced and more consistent Resource Management Act.

It is all about balance, and I think the changes will have a significant impact on our economic growth – especially with the looming infrastructure spending.

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A challenge

February 3rd, 2009 at 9:07 pm by David Farrar
  1. Go read Phil Goff’s press release on National’s RMA changes
  2. Then decide whether or not Labour is for or against the said RMA changes.
  3. You may repeat step 1 as many times as you like, but you may find it doesn’t help you.
  4. Then state in the comments whether or not you think they are for or against.

Maybe Phil is intending to do a John Kerry – and be both against and for it!

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Stage One of the RMA Changes

February 3rd, 2009 at 5:53 pm by David Farrar

John Key and Nick Smith have announced details of the initial changes to the RMA. The bill will go to select committee in the normal way and is expected back in the House in August. What are the major changes:

  • Remove frivolous, vexatious and anti-competitive objections by increasing the fee for an appeal to the Environment Court from $55 to $500, and allow compensation to be awarded to a business where a competitor tries to use the RMA to delay competition. In my opinion the $500 filing fee is still remarkably considering some consents cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to achieve.
  • Streamlining processes for projects of national significance to allow national boards of inquiry to be formed, and a nine month deadline for decisions.
  • Creating an Environmental Protection Agency as an independent statutory body from the Ministry for the Environment.
  • Improving district plan development and changes by having the focus on issues rather than individual submissions, and allowing regional councils and TLAs to produce a combined RMA planning document.
  • Improving resource consent processes as only 56% of notified consents are processed on time. Councils will be required to reduce their fees when they do not process a consent within the legal timeframes.
  • Streamlining decision making by allowing applicants to choose independent commissioners instead of local body politicians – so long as they meet the cost.
  • Improving workability and compliance by increasing maximum fines from $200,000 to $600,000
  • Allow enforcement action to be taken against the Crown (currently exempt)
  • Improving national instruments with more use of national policy statements

Nick Smith also provides some examples of why we need RMA reform:

  • Wairau Pak’nSave – The proposal to develop a Pak’nSave supermarket on Wairau Road on the North Shore has been embroiled in litigation since the 1990s. Consents have been granted several times only to be appealed to higher courts, and although the supermarket building has been constructed, it is unable to operate due to ongoing litigation.
  • Long Bay Structure Plan – 12-year planning process characterised by disagreement between North Shore City Council and developer ended with Environment Court issuing a decision in favour of the council-proposed Structure Plan.
  • Whangamata Marina – Initially proposed in 1995, the Whangamata Marina proposal is still awaiting a final decision after the High Court directed the then Minister of Conservation to set his decision aside and reconsider the applications.
  • Crest Energy Marine Energy Project – After almost four years Crest Energy is awaiting an Environment Court hearing.
  • Alpurt B (Albany to Puhoi Realignment) State Highway One – RMA approvals took approximately 10 years from lodgement to completion.

Now what has been the reaction to the changes? Most of it is predictable with the Greens and allies aghast, and business and industry groups supportive.

Rodney Hide has called it a good startLabour has gone for a bob each way and said it agrees reforms are needed and just intends to scrutinise the legislation rather than necessairly oppose it. This is clealry a sign of Goff’s move to the centre.

The Environmental Defence Society has a fairly balanced take on the bill, detailing the parts they like and don’t like. Much more constructive than some otehr groups.

Former Labour Party President Bob Harvey has welcomed the changes, in his role as Mayor of Waitakere. The Wind Energy Association also supports it. If you want more renewable energy, you need RMA reform.

Also the NZ Business Council for Sustainable Development is strongly backing the reforms. They are a major advocate of environmentally friendly business practices and (for example) were big supporters of the Emissions Trading Scheme.

It will be very interesting to see how Labour votes on the changes as they go through the House.

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RMA changes look positive

February 1st, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The SST reports on likely changes to the RMA. They are:

  • enable local councils to make planning changes more quickly (currently takes six years on average)
  • prevent companies using the law to stymie competition from rival firms
  • no change to the environmental purposes of the act
  • major projects could now be heard by a board of inquiry headed by an Environment Court judge or a retired judge
  • local bodies could nominate people also to serve on the board
  • limit the number of appeals that go further up the track
  • increase the power of the courts to be able to ping players that have abused the RMA process
  • maximum fine for breaches of RMA to increase from $200,000 to several million probably

In summary it is not about changing what projects get consent, just about speeding up the process which is insanely long at the moment.

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Another time bomb for the new Government

December 13th, 2008 at 9:57 am by David Farrar

Something else Labour forgot to mention before the election – Eden Park probably won’t be ready in time for the 2011 Rugby World Cup because of the time taken to get consents.

And this is Labour who claims the RMA doesn’t need reform!

The new Government may have to pass a special law over-riding the consent process for Eden Park. Let’s hope not, as that is unfair to residents – but not having Eden Park ready in time is not an option.

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Frog on RMA

December 12th, 2008 at 11:14 am by David Farrar

Frog is upset about Rodney Hide wanting to restrict appeals from deecisions of consent panels to directly affected persons.

Frog thunders:

And in a society governed by rule of law, the citizens should be able to appeal the decisions of council hearing panels to the courts. But I guess all Act’s talk about ‘rule of law’ is only when it suits them not when it might stand in the way of making a buck at the expense of the environment.

This sounds superficially appealing, until you realise Frog is not talking about being able to appeal against what Councils do with public land but appeal against what citizens do on their private property.

Does Frog then think I should be able to appeal to the Enviornment Court his or her decision to paint their house a particular colour? Even when I’m not a next door neighbour, but live 1000 kms away?

Those who are affected by a resource consent should be able to follow the legal process around that consent. But I don’t see why me in Wellington should be able to delay for months and years a resource consent in Dunedin, if it has the support of everyone in Dunedin.

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Waitaki River power station approved

December 3rd, 2008 at 8:10 am by David Farrar

Good news that commissioners have given consent to Meridian Energy for a 1100Gwh to 1400GWh power station on the Waitaki River.

If we want to transition away from non-renewable energy to renewables, then projects like these are essential.

Of course this is just the first step of the consent process. There are inevitable appeals to the Environment Court. Actual construction is still four years away from beginning!

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Why RMA reform is not anti-environment

November 23rd, 2008 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Nick Smith makes a very good case for RMA reform in the SST:

Smith replies that he doesn’t so much want to alter the environmental outcomes of disputes under the law, but the process. At present, decisions are made by dozens of local bodies, some of them tiny, and then routinely appealed to the Environment Court. The result is often expensive and unnecessary delay.

Yep, it is not about getting different decisions made, but the idiocy that it takes longer to get a resource consent for a road, than it does to build it.

He offers a couple of examples. “TrustPower has applied for a quite controversial power scheme on the Wairau River in Marlborough. The process has been awful. It went to a commissioners’ hearing and it dragged out for more than two years, but everybody knew from the word go that it would be appealed to the Environment Court. I have sympathy with the Marlborough District Council, which is the administering body for the law. They don’t have a high level of expertise with a very large hydro development. They’ve never had one before.

“And an organisation like Fish and Game has spent hundreds of thousands of their environmental money [fighting the proposal] knowing all the time that the thing was going to the Environment Court.

“Another example is a highly controversial Mokihinui hydro scheme on the West Coast proposed by Meridian. Now Buller District Council is one of our smallest councils in the country. For them to be dealing with a $200m proposal… You’ve got a council with a population of 3000 or 4000 processing a consent that’s got major implications way beyond the Buller District.” The officer concerned with processing resource consent applications, he says, was probably also the dog control officer.

If it involves national infrastructure, it inevitably is dealt with nationally. This doesn’t mean no local input, just that the actual Councils may not be best placed to deal with it.

Smith wants to set up a new body, the Environmental Protection Agency, with a trained and professional staff equipped to do the administrative work with these complex proposals, which would be considered either by the Environment Court or a board of inquiry. Time-wasting and expensive hearings by tiny local bodies would be omitted.

The EPA may actually result in a better level of environmental advocacy.

The RMA, he says, is an impediment to efficient investment in infrastructure “and that’s not helping the environment either”. Auckland has a worse air pollution problem than Los Angeles, he says, with cars stopping and starting in congested traffic. A better roading network would help the environment.

The Greens have an extreme anti-road views, but the reality is that NZ’s future includes both more roads and more public transport. Only extremists think it is a choice of one over another. And delaying much needed roads does have a toll – on the environment, on the road toll, and on the economy.

The RMA, despite some changes by the Labour-led government, presented huge difficulties for the development of environmentally friendly electricity projects such as wind and geothermal. Smith believes there is great potential for green power in New Zealand. The geothermal area of the central North Island had the advantage that it was close to the major growth areas of Auckland and the Waikato. There was some potential for hydro although “we’re certainly not going to be damming every last river”, he says. “And there is some longer-term opportunity around tidal and wave energy.”

A considerable number of renewable energy projects have been killed off due to the RMA process.

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National’s Infrastructure Forum

August 3rd, 2008 at 9:44 am by David Farrar

The Infrastructure Forum has just started. I’m only half taking it in, as was a pretty late night out with the Young Nationals celebrating the All Blacks massive victory.

Got absolutely soaked to the bone getting home – it was thundering down, and taxis were scarce with a 30 minute delay if you phoned for one.

Anyway back to infrastructure. First up was Maurice Williamson on transport and he summed it up himself with a one liner – National will build more roads – lots of them! He gave some staggering figures on the massive increase in costs that some roading projects have incurred due to consent delays. He stressed this wasn’t about even getiing enough roads for future volume, but just getting us enough for our current needs.

Then Gerry Brownlee on energy. Gerry said that if we found Maui field today, it would be worth around $50 billion. Said that concern over carbon emissions doesn’t change the fact that replacements for current fuel sources are not extensively available, so demand will stay high. NZ second only to Canada in our mineral endowment.

Third up was Nick Smith on RMA reform.  Round up of how multiple business organisations, government advisory groups and surveys all rate this as the highest priority. Will be enacted within months not years of the election.

Questions were fairly as expected. A patsy on why broadband is a better infrastructure investment than trains. Some discussion on coal and carbon emissions and whether one can sequester the co2 from coal. Also focus on consenting for roads – the desirability of having one consent application for an entire motorway, rather than breaking it down into lots of small packages – each of which has its own process.

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National policy

July 25th, 2008 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

NBR have an NZPA story on National’s policy programme. Details are:

  • Tax policy to be released in first week of the campaign – is locked in and takes account of worsening economy
  • KiwiSaver policy and Working for Families policies to be released
  • These would be minor changes to current settings only
  • Planning for a 8 November election
  • Would introduce an RMA Amendment Bill within 100 days of office
  • Aims to make the Emissions Trading Scheme a priority and pass legislation within nine months of office
  • Stressed no change to the $1.5 billion fibre to the home broadband infrastructure proposal

All sounds good.

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Colin Espiner and PC on power problems

June 10th, 2008 at 4:45 pm by David Farrar

First of all, here is Colin Espiner on David Parker’s handing of the issue:

Okay then, so the Government says there’s nothing to worry about and the head of the company that transports electricity around the country says that there is. Hmmmmm. Who to believe? Hang on, isn’t there an election at the end of the year?

The best part was near the end of the press conference when Parker rounded on the media for supposedly beating up the story of a crisis, adding that no one could really expect to have a hydro-based power system AND keep the lights burning and industry making things.

Hmmn, this has some implications, such as:

The thing that disturbs me about this comment is that we’re less reliant on hydro power than we used to be. Fast forward ten years. I can almost hear whoever is Energy Minister saying: “You can’t have a wind-based electricity system and still have enough electricity to run everything flat tack in a really calm year.”

Yup. That’s why the rest of the developed world still burns coal and oil, or has nuclear power. You can’t rely on a network dependent on rain and wind – even in Wellington. Was it really only a few months ago that the Government was promising to make New Zealand 95 per cent dependent on renewable energy? Now Huntly’s running full tilt and we’re cheering on Mighty River Power to get its new gas-fired plant up and running as soon as possible.

But why don’t we have enough power? Usage patterns are well known and for years people have been saying we need more. Well Not PC looks at the problem – the RMA. Go read his whole post because it has a huge amount of data, but here’s just one aspect:

Projects Abandoned/Delayed/Restricted due to Resource Management Act :

· Project Aqua, hydro (520 MW) – abandoned 2000-2004
· Marsden B, coal (320 MW) – abandoned 2007
· Wairau Valley, Marlborough, hydro (75 MW) – abandoned 2007
· Whanganui/Tongariro, hydro – Environment Court effectively reduced the Tongariro capacity by one-third due to the “mauri” of the Whanganui river …
· North Bank Tunnel, hydro (260MW) – delayed until at least 2016
· Makara, wind – reduced from 210 to 140MW in 2007
· Project Hayes, wind (150MW) – still in delay
· Te Uku Wind (72MW) – awaiting consents
· Te Waka Wind (111MW) – consent overturned by Environment Court in April, 2007

There isn’t a market failure with energy generation. There is a regulatory failure.

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No Hilton for Wellington

March 15th, 2008 at 3:51 pm by David Farrar

The Environment Court has turned down the proposal for a 5 star Hilton to be built on the Wellington Waterfront.

I was generally supportive because the current location is occupied by an ugly warehouse used for indoor sports which just doesn’t make any use of the stunning views of its location.  There may have been features of the actual proposal which made it undesirable -but  I haven’t studied it in detail.

Wellington has no top class hotels at all. The Intercontinental (which fought the proposal as they don’t want competition) is closest, but we will struggle to attract certain conventions and conferences without a five star hotel.

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