Competition within the rural zone
Should the rural zone be predominantly a working environment or is there room to accommodate a growing number of residential lifestylers?
Farming is accepted by most as an appropriate use of rural land but other rural activities like gravel and sand extraction are facing considerable opposition where new development is proposed. Often the opposition stems from potentially affected residents occupying smaller lifestyle blocks who have moved to the country in the search of a quieter existence. It appears that often proposed quarry developments cannot meet the expectations of their residential neighbours.
The policies in the current plans in Canterbury provide little certainty for quarry operators as they are balanced and seek to maintain amenity while also enabling rural activities. For example, the Christchurch District Plan contains a policy which seeks to maintain amenity and one which seeks to enable access to aggregates by providing for quarrying in rural zones in specified circumstances. The question then becomes what level of effects is acceptable in the rural zone.
The case for the quarry operators is clear – access to more gravel is required to meet demand. However, can quarries be accommodated within rural zones where residents are expecting high levels of amenity? Is the solution to allow rural residential development in some areas while maintaining the ‘true’ rural zone as a working environment? Currently we have an uncertain planning environment where each resource consent application is assessed on its merits and faces the risk of an appeal and an Environment Court hearing – this is not conducive to keeping the cost of aggregates down.
The Environment Court considered these issues in its recent decision Yaldhurst Quarries Joint Action Group v Christchurch City Council  NZEnvC 165 where it upheld an appeal and declined an application made by Harewood Gravels to establish a quarry in Conservators Road, McLeans Island. The issues raised by the Yaldhurst Joint Action Group included: landscape, noise, traffic and dust. The Environment Court’s decision has been appealed to the High Court.
Both Selwyn and Waimakariri District Councils will be grappling with the concept of rural land use in 2018 when they embark on the process to replace their District Plans and decisions will be made as to what level of amenity is appropriate in the rural area. This will be your opportunity to have your say.
Disclaimer: the content of this article is general in nature and not intended as a substitute for specific professional advice on any matter and should not be relied upon for that purpose.