25 May 2016

Labour MP accused of interfering in court case

3:34 pm on 25 May 2016

A Labour MP has been accused of inappropriately trying to influence the Environment Court on the future of a prominent Dunedin hill.

The criticism comes as the court prepares a long-awaited decision on Saddle Hill's 80-year-old quarry.

Saddle Hill.

Saddle Hill. Photo: Dunedin City Council

Dunedin City Council launched court proceedings in 2011 after 40 years of dispute and community complaints to protect the shape of the double hill, which was named by Captain James Cook.

Clare Curran

Clare Curran Photo: Facebook

The quarry company, Saddle Views Estate, and the council have been locked in a four-year court battle over whether it has a resource consent to alter the ridgeline.

Labour MP for Dunedin South, Clare Curran, wrote to the Environment Court in March last year just before a hearing, urging it to act fast and take into account what she called immense community concern.

"The lengthy court processes have delayed any decision on the future of this historic landmark, a decision which needs to be made before it is too late," she wrote.

"Over a third of the hill has been quarried and it has lost over 48m of height. Due to the lack of an independent stability analysis or mine safety inspection it is unknown how prone the hill is to collapse."

Quarry spokesperson Calvin Fisher criticised Ms Curran, saying she should not have tried to influence the judge.

Mr Fisher said Ms Curran was trying to push her authority onto the judicial system and that smacked of intended interference for an intended outcome.

Saddle Hill, near Dunedin.

Saddle Hill, near Dunedin. Photo: RNZ/ Darryl Baser

Judge Jon Jackson issued a minute two weeks after getting Ms Curran's letter saying he would ignore it because it could be seen as attempting to influence the court.

Ms Curran said she did not regret writing the letter because she was doing her job, representing her constituents .

She wrote letters all over the place, including twice to the court, once to the minister and to the city council on numerous occasions.

She said the letter represented a community which has felt for many years as if it did not have a voice in the court process.

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