New regulations which halt work near any land that gets wet will push already short supplies of rock, gravel and sand into a crisis situation, drive up prices and put the delivery of shovel-ready projects at risk.
Aggregate and Quarry Association CEO Wayne Scott says: ”Years of accessible rock has been unintentionally closed off by The National Environmental Standards for Freshwater which took effect last month. The impact on Auckland quarries is significant. The region is already trucking in millions of tonnes of rock a year from Waikato and Northland to keep up with demand from housing, roading and infrastructure projects.
”The Ministry for the Environment’s new regulations use an extremely broad and ambiguous definition of a wetland and the prohibition of activity around wetlands including earthworks was added to the regulations at an extremely late stage without consultation.
“With the new definition of a “natural wetland”, any significant modification of land which can become temporarily wet is now a prohibited activity and no resource consent application can be lodged.
Scott says the ability of the quarry industry to provide the base materials for infrastructure’s role in the Covid-19 recovery was now at risk and the cost to supply aggregate will go up.
“This locks up 150m tonnes of rock resource at one quarry alone – Stevenson Aggregate’s quarry at Drury in south Auckland. That’s about 50 years of quarry life, the equivalent of 12 years supply for Auckland. It’s halted because an area of land in the middle of the proposed development, likely created by farming activities, gets wet.
“It will also stop Winstone Aggregates accessing 20m or more tonnes of rock at its Flat Top quarry north of Auckland. That’s another quarry that would have to close early and a year and a half of Auckland’s current demand which will have to come from somewhere further away. The result will be more trucks from quarries further north or south, adding totally unnecessary congestion, emissions and costs. Supply to Auckland and some other regions is already constrained through lack of national planning and the new regulations will significantly intensify the issue.”
Wayne Scott says most Auckland quarries and many hundreds more around the country will shut early under the new regulations – and most new potential quarries will not be able to apply for resource consents because earthworks on any land that gets wet is prohibited.
“The result will be aggregate production will rapidly reduce at the very time it is most needed.”
He says not just aggregate would be affected but the wider extractive sector including lime production for agriculture, alluvial gold mining and pounamu.
Just before the new regulations took effect last month, Commissioners for an Otago gold mine development, said in their decision that such a prohibition had no place in a National Policy Statement: “No consent authority should be put in a position where a prohibited activity rule, no matter how laboriously worded, is as ambiguous and open to interpretation as this rule would be.” Had they not approved the Macraes Deepdell development, around 500 jobs and annual export revenue of around NZ$600 million would have been at stake.
“We are in disbelief that the Government has unleashed such a blanket prohibition on quarry development out of the blue,” says Wayne Scott.
“Commissioners are already saying the approach is out of place and will only reward lawyers. The industry is genuinely committed to protecting established wetlands and many quarries work hard to develop and support wetlands. However, it’s daft when the wetlands definition extends to dry-tussock land which might get wet once in a while from a temporary stream.
“This will have a major impact on the extractives sector and other industries with activities involving earthworks. Quarries and mines will be prematurely closed and it will prevent new ones being developed in many areas of New Zealand.
“Without a doubt, the Government’s drive for infrastructure and shovel-ready projects as a key plank for economic recovery and employment will be significantly compromised.”
The nation’s four biggest quarry owners – Winstone Aggregates, Fulton Hogan, J Swap Contractors and Kaipara Ltd – have written to the Prime Minister and other Government Ministers outlining the impact on aggregate supply if the new regulations remain in place.
The quarry owners say a simple modification of the regulations could allow quarries to continue without compromising overall ecological outcomes.
“The AQA, with the extractive sector and others, are working with officials on solutions to these unintended consequences and we look forward to working through these complex issues with the incoming Government,” says Wayne Scott.