Local Government Magazine

Between a rock and a hard place

Constructive alternatives

Wayne Scott: The Aggregate and Quarry Association utterly supports balanced resource consent conditions.

As the need for more infrastructure projects around the country gains momentum, Wayne Scott from the Aggregate and Quarry Association calls for a closer dialogue with local government.

If you are involved with any council budget for infrastructure, you’re likely to be well aware that the price of the aggregate that forms the basis of all such projects has been going up. Recently-released figures from the New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals (NZPAM) crown agency show a 15 percent increase in aggregate costs in 2017. Those of us in the quarry sector reckon that may be matched – or exceeded – in 2018 and are likely to continue rising.

So, this year council infrastructure projects will be about a third more expensive – at least in terms of their foundation material.

Have I got your attention yet? Because these figures are no surprise to the quarry industry. We’ve been saying for years that allowing a system which makes it difficult to operate, let alone open, a quarry will have impacts. And when we continue to have a growing economy – the demand/supply curve gets more bent out of shape.

The Aggregate and Quarry Association (AQA) is not throwing rocks at councils here. We engage with councils as they seek to develop plans which may improve access to resources. Most recently the AQA has submitted to the long-term plans of the Selwyn and Waikato districts.

I have also had quite a lot to do with Environment Canterbury in the past year, as it worked through contentious dust issues around some quarries at Yaldhurst. Frankly, I think everyone needs to take some responsibility in that instance. ECAN and Christchurch City Council needed a lot of aggregate quickly after the quakes. Existing quarries dug deeper and provided the material.

It did create some extra dust for nearby residents. That certainly had some nuisance value, created some minor health irritations and impacted on the quality of life. Unfortunately, it was then claimed the dust might include respirable crystalline silica which is cancer-inducing.

Mercifully, a testing regime introduced by ECAN has put that to rest. But images of Yaldhurst residents with face masks have enhanced a public view that all quarries are dust-producing monstrosities, which should be banished to the hinterland.

This is simply not correct nor fair – and, if adopted, would be ruinous for every New Zealander.

Now, after some significant changes within the AQA in recent months – including my appointment as chief executive and that of Jared Johnston as a new AQA chair – we think it’s timely to alert our friends in the local government sector to some of the issues and our efforts to resolve them.

We’ve been seeking meetings with ministers in the new-ish government. A prompt for that is the government’s own significant infrastructure budget and ambitious housing and regional development programmes.

The AQA understands that managing urban growth is high on the government’s priorities and our industry’s ability to meet the associated increase in demand for aggregates has a critical role to play in the delivery of the government’s plans.

A secure supply of quality aggregate material and its location are all-important in providing quarry materials for affordable housing and infrastructure.

Good quarried material is not universally available and can only be sourced from where it is located. Therefore, sound long-term planning is needed to provide adequate access to resources at locations that meet quality requirements and minimise transport. (Aggregate itself is almost literally as cheap as chips; the big cost comes in trucking it – and the further it has to travel, the bigger the cost.)

Auckland has considerable aggregate resources yet imports much of its material from Northland and Waikato. Wellington is importing material by barge from Golden Bay for Transmission Gully which then has to be trucked up the coast. More trucks on the road simply congest traffic and increase emissions unnecessarily.

The AQA wants the Coalition Government to give local authorities greater direction in planning for key resource areas, in order to protect existing quarries from encroachment of non-compatible land uses, such as housing, and reduce the potential for ‘reverse sensitivity’ – sometimes now known as the Western Springs syndrome.

The options to achieve this include direction under the Resource Management Act or Local Government Act, perhaps a National Policy Statement on preserving quarry resources along similar lines to the work being done on preserving versatile soils, and/or a statement of intent or public conversation to guide TLAs in securing these critical resources.

So, we are putting it up front with you in local government. We understand councils can feel left between, excuse the pun, a rock and a hard place when it comes to deciding if a quarry’s ability to supply low-cost local aggregate has enough importance to match what can sometimes be loud campaigns against quarries.

The AQA wants to make clear to councils – and to residents – that it utterly supports balanced resource consent conditions that limit and enforce noise, dust and trucking movements.

We accept at times, as with any industry, there can be operators who let down others by poor practices.

We are not seeking exemptions from the law – just good sound rules which recognise that well-run local quarries are essential to building the New Zealand we all want to enjoy. That includes acknowledging that many quarries end up as community assets, including wetlands, water bodies, parks, housing projects or community facilities, such as Mt Smart Stadium.

I am willing to talk to any of you in local authorities who can see what compounding cost increases in aggregate would mean for your council and community, and are interested to engage on constructive alternatives.

The AQA is now based in Wellington – a stone’s throw from Lambton Quay – and you’ll get good coffee if you want to meet in person. 

• Wayne Scott is chief executive of the Aggregate and Quarry Association (AQA). 021 944 336. wayne@aqa.org.nz

This article was first published in the February 2019 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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