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AQA warns of rocky road ahead

Roger Parton Chief Executive Aggregate & Quarry Association (AQA)

Aggregate & Quarry Association (AQA) chief executive Roger Parton says councils need to ensure ongoing quarry production in 2016 and watch for new health and safety requirements coming into force.

The quarry industry often puts councils between a rock and a hard place. That very rock (or river stone) that councils need for their roads, drainage and the buildings which a community demands can seem to come from a very difficult place – a quarry, often with troubled neighbours, almost always with objectors. Councils are obliged to mediate through a resource consent.

What results is often an expensive process seeking to get approval for a new quarry. It is not unusual for councils to say no and to sterilise quarries from getting access to new rock resources. Or a consent can include such conditions as no weekend work and curbs on weekday hours.

Five years ago, I noted at a meeting in Auckland as the city’s new council was taking office, that our major centre was already trucking in aggregate from as far away as Northland and Waikato; and that while Auckland was poised for ever more growth, the number of quarries in the region was gradually reducing. I also advised that it took around 10 years to establish a new quarry.

To date, no new major quarries (to my knowledge) have been established in the area covered by the new Auckland Council. There have been one or two welcome renewals and extensions but the Waikato is now New Zealand’s biggest source of quarry material; Auckland is third.

As you can imagine, much of Waikato’s production is put on trucks heading for Auckland. The consequence of that is for every 30 kilometres a truck covers, the cost of the aggregate it is carrying is doubled.

Like every other council in New Zealand, Auckland is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions; yet much of its aggregate continues to be hauled in from surrounding regions.

Worse to come

I regret to say that things are poised to get worse in 2016. From Auckland to Southland, councils are preparing the plans which will guide their resource management for the next decade. All of them are picking up on the 2014 Supreme Court decision on King Salmon’s proposal to farm salmon at a site in Port Gore in the Marlborough Sounds.

The Supreme Court overturned an earlier ruling which said the “compelling” benefits the site provided for aquaculture required a “balanced” approach to be taken. The Supreme Court said this was wrong in law and avoiding adverse effects on natural landscape/character could not be overruled.

Councils are now writing policy which sets out to ‘avoid’ anything with particular environmental impacts.

Our fear is that this will extend to a ban on issues such as expansions on river aggregate extraction. This is not just used for roading and construction; it is often used by councils for flood protection work. The very extraction of it reduces flood risk.

Such plan proposals lack common sense. If it becomes harder and harder to extract river shingle or set up a quarry, New Zealand eventually grinds to a halt.

Everything that happens in an economy has some effect on natural resources. It does not mean destroying the environment. Even former quarry sites have their uses as you can see if you visit Mt Smart Stadium. The AQA trusts that sense will prevail.

Health & Safety

The other major issue affecting quarries – and potentially councils – as we head into 2016 is the new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 which takes effect in April.

Many councils own land on which quarries are sited; some even operate quarries. In June 2015, Murray Taylor died in a limestone quarry collapse at Waikari in North Canterbury. He was operating the quarry without the appropriate certificate but it was leased from the Hurunui District Council, based at Amberley.

The Waikari tragedy has awoken many landowners, including councils, to the risks and liabilities they face as quarry site owners.

Under the new legislation, any PCBU – a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking – can face fines of up to $600,000 and five years in jail for recklessly ignoring health and safety requirements.

It is understood from some in the quarry sector that there may be hundreds of such sites across New Zealand in varying states of repair. Some may be council-owned, others vested in council by government agencies.

Some quarry operators are now working with councils to remediate sites to reduce quarry walls to more acceptable slopes or fill in water pits.

This work has increased since new extraction health and safety legislation emerged two years ago – and intensified since the Waikari tragedy on a council-owned site.

Some former quarries are able to be left as they are; others need remediation.

WorkSafe’s High Hazards Unit (Extractives) is developing the first-ever national quarries locations map which will assist everyone. Councils will be able to use this database to see if appropriate resource consents and processes are in place on quarries, some of which have never been declared.

This is all part of the new focus on health and safety. A fundamental difference between the existing legislation and the new Act is that the former relied upon an employment relationship being in place before liability ensued, while the latter does not.

It does not matter whether the workplace is high risk or not, or whether worker representation is required or not.

Regulations underpinning the Act are still being drafted. In the interim, Good Practice Guidelines for Health and Safety at surface mines and quarries, now published, provides the necessary guidance. The AQA looks forward to working with councils to get beneficial regulatory and health and safety outcomes through 2016.

This article was first published in NZ Local Government Magazine’s Perspectives 2016.

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