2 Jun 2016

Dunedin quarry fight drags on

8:53 am on 2 June 2016

A long-running court case over quarrying on Dunedin's landmark Saddle Hill shows no signs of concluding, with the Environment Court unable to make a ruling.

The Saddle Hill quarry, as seen from the air.

The Saddle Hill quarry, as seen from the air. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

The dispute between the Dunedin City Council and the quarry operator Saddle Views Estate over a 56-year-old resource consent was first taken to court in 2011.

The latest Environment Court interim ruling released yesterday has given no resolution, instead asking both parties to have a re-think.

In Captain Cook's journals of his 1769 voyage of discovery, he referred to the double-peaked hill above present-day Dunedin as having a remarkable saddle.

But the smaller of the two hills has been a quarry for about 80 years.

That operation intensified in 1960 when construction company Downer asked to use it to provide material for the new Dunedin Airport being built in Momona.

Locals and the council said the quarrying should have stopped once the airport was built, and they were worried the distinctive ridgeline could crumble.

Dunedin City Council spokesperson Simon Pickford said the latest decision suggested there was a limit to how much the quarry operator could take from the hill.

"Perhaps those limits have already been reached, in which case that's probably a great outcome." he said. "But we just really want some clarity on it, we need to understand what the limits of the quarrying operation could be, should be."

"It is a very emotive thing for the community, they feel very strongly but it is frustrating that people have had to wait so long," he said.

In 2011 the council went to the Environment Court, which ruled the quarry did not have a valid resource consent. This was then overturned by the High Court three years later.

It was now back at the Environment Court, and in its latest interim decision, Judge Jon Jackson said it was no good knowing that a consent existed without knowing what was in it.

He suggested the consent granted no more than 100,000 cubic yards of rock be taken for the new airport, and asked both parties for further submissions with that in mind.

In a statement, Saddle Views Estate owner Calvin Fisher said the situation was now a farce and reeked of injustice, as limits were not argued in court.

Saddle Hill

Saddle Hill Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

But Keith McFadyen, a local, said the interim ruling provided a glimmer of hope.

"We would be of the belief that the original consent could have been for that project and that project only -- to remove enough material to undertake the Momona project," he said. "However we don't see any point where any further excavation, where it may very well damage the profile of the hill, should be warranted."

Scott Weatherall, the chair of the Saddle Hill community board, said while it was not an answer, it was a starting point.

"This was what the community would have seen as almost the last decision, and we kind of hoped to have some final direction as a result of this Environment Court ruling," he said. "Unfortunately, the outcome is [come] back for more information, the good thing is it hasn't closed the door."

The council and Saddle Views Estate have until 29 July to make their submissions to the court.

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