Regional | Fast-track bill

Pākiri community, sand mining company at odds at fast-track approval hearings

Sand mining protesters gather at Mangawhai Beach, north of Pākiri. Photo: Save Our Sand Mangawhai Pakiri/ Elevated Media

This article was first published by RNZ.

A sand mining company embroiled in a resource consent battle should not be allowed to access the proposed fast-tracking process, community groups have told politicians.

McCallum Bros, which mines sand from Pākiri beach north of Auckland, and a Pākiri residents’ group took their fight to select committee hearings into the Fast-track Approvals Bill last week.

McCallum Bros chief executive Shayne Elstob said his company supported the bill, which has been touted as a one-stop-shop for consents. The legislation also proposes to let projects rejected by courts go ahead if they pass the fast-track process.

Elstob would like that clause to specifically include consents rejected under the Resource Management Act.

The company’s attempt to gain consent to carry on mining under the RMA had been a “horrendous” process, Elstob said.

But a representative for Māori land owners of a 1.5-kilometre stretch of the beach, Pākiri G Ahu Whenua Trust chair Wayne Greenwood, urged the committee to leave previously rejected projects out of the Bill, saying McCallum Bros had been declined “for very good reasons”.

The company’s consent application to mine sand offshore from Pākiri beach was refused by Auckland Council independent commissioners. It then lost a case in the Environment Court challenging the decision.

The court said evidence about the ecological effects of the mining provided by the company had been “patchy”, “inconclusive” and even “incorrect” in the past. It also found the effect on mana whenua could not be mitigated.

McCallum Bros has appealed the Environment Court’s decision to the High Court.

“When all is said and done, this process could take more than seven years and has come at a huge cost to the business,” Elstob told the committee.

McCallum Bros was a family-run business with limited resources, he said.

“Had we known what we would have been dealing with through the current RMA process, I’m really not sure whether we would have made the application in the first place. We would have possibly invested our money elsewhere.”

Elstob said Pākiri’s sand was used in infrastructure projects such as the City Rail Link and Central Waste Infrastructure.

“You simply can’t implement significant infrastructure projects without high-quality sand and currently there is a limited supply in the Auckland region.”

Thousands of people around the country attended protests against the Fast-track Approvals Bill earlier in June. Photo: RNZ / Farah Hancock

Greenwood told the committee that six million cubic metres of sand had been mined from the area over the past 80 years.

“If you put it end-on-end, it’s about from here to South America. That’s a hell of a lot of sand that’s come off the beach, off the land and out of the sea bed.”

The company was effectively “digging holes” in the seabed as it dredged trenches along the beach, he said.

“We’re losing a significant amount of beach frontage ... We’ve got boundaries now, which are actually underwater.”

He was born and raised in Pākiri, he said. “The beach is gone, it’s now exposed to its rocks.”

Greenwood works closely with the Department of Conservation to protect New Zealand’s most endangered bird, the tara iti, or fairy tern. Fewer than 40 breeding-age birds remain.

Nests have had to be relocated because they were too close to where waves now reached, Greenwood said.

“We’re trying to save them on one hand and, on the other, the environment has been taken away from them.”

Greenwood was in support of some aspects of the Fast-track Approvals Bill “but I really think that this fast-track legislation should leave Pākiri out of it”.

He was concerned the fast-track process could override the court cases and allow mining to go ahead. “They’ve been declined twice for very good reasons and it would be a sad day for this to be approved by the fast-track legislation panel.”

Pākiri is one of the nesting habitats for New Zealand's remaining fairy terns. Photo: Supplied / Darren Markin

Another community group due to be heard this week had its oral submission postponed. The Manuhiri Kaitiaki Charitable Trust is the environmental arm of the post-settlement governance structure for Warkworth-based iwi Ngāti Manuhiri.

Its written submission supported some parts of the bill but singled out the sand mining at Pākiri as one concern, saying the region had been exploited for eight decades.

“In our view, the proposed process for a project risks overlooking critical environmental considerations and can overturn well-examined judicial findings.”

It said there had been erosion along the shores of Pākiri beach and the health of kaimoana in the area had deteriorated.

“The trust is not confident that the Fast-track Approvals Bill won’t be used to up-end well-rationalised and considered decisions, in favour of well-resourced, legacy interests.”

While the case was before the courts and consent was still sought, sand mining had been allowed to continue in a temporary consent granted by the Environment Court.

Elstob said this allowed the company to maintain business continuity.

“Without this right, we would have had to abandon our sand extraction business and would have put the City Rail Link and Central Interceptor projects at risk of significant time delays, as Pākiri sand was specified in both,” he said.

One of the amendments Elstob suggested the committee consider was allowing projects to have simultaneous applications lodged under the RMA and fast-track consideration. The draft legislation requires applications to be withdrawn from the RMA process.

Damon Clapshaw, a Pākiri local who helped uncover the existence of trenches up to 2.7m deep, 15m wide and 3km long created by dredging - which breached consent conditions - was unimpressed with Elstob’s request.

“In further seeking to continue whilst appealing, and also wanting to keep all Fast-track Bill options open, McCallum Bros are trying to have their cake and eat it.”

The company had already breached the temporary consent, by taking more sand than was allowed during a 30-day period, Clapshaw said. In a letter RNZ has seen, a McCallum Bros staff member told Auckland Council the error was due to an incorrectly setup spreadsheet.

“McCallum Bros are making a mockery of the appeal and Fast-track Bill system, with the environment as the loser,” Clapshaw said.