Health and safety concerns, and access to local resources remain paramount in a year of potential change for the quarrying and aggregates sector. Roger Parton, chief executive, Aggregate and Quarry Association.
Like many of you in the local government sector, those of us in the industry that provides the foundations of every built environment enter a new year with a lot of questions about what the new government will mean for us.
I also wish to alert those of you who work for, or represent, councils to some of the realities and risks that councils now face under the Health and Safety at Work Act – passed by the previous government – if any quarries are sited on council-owned land.
The new Labour-led government is now in place and the Aggregate and Quarry Association (AQA) is already putting in its bids to engage with ministers. Of course, the new administration is built around the Labour Party which is a centre-left party made up of a mix of idealists and pragmatists. It is a government committed to economic development, notably in the regions.
With hundreds of quarries dotted from Te Hapua to Bluff providing the foundations for every road, new home, factory, school, office and hospital, we trust the quarrying industry is able to provide the rock and stone required to keep the country growing.
We will look to the Labour pragmatists in the Cabinet such as David Parker, Stuart Nash and Damien O’Connor, not to mention NZ First’s Winston Peters, Ron Mark and Shane Jones, to ensure this occurs.
Nash certainly impressed the quarry sector by being the only MP from any party to accept an invitation to attend last year’s QuarryNZ conference; he gave a supportive and well-received speech on the importance of the sector.
It would be something of an understatement to say that the Green Party is not seen as supportive of the quarrying sector. That said, the AQA notes how one of its own core ambitions aligns with Green principles. We continue to fight for access to local resources, rather than being pushed further and further from urban centres.
I cannot say that councils are entirely helpful in this area, despite the fact that local quarries reduce fuel emissions and traffic congestion. We trust any MP or local councillor, especially those committed to climate change, can see the benefits of continued access to urban / urban-fringe aggregate.
Growth puts pressure on boundaries
A related issue that will present potential challenges for us is the Labour-led government’s wish to build 10,000 more houses, notably in Auckland. This is seeing the current urban / rural boundary coming under pressure.
Much of Auckland’s remaining locally-produced aggregate is sourced from the rolling pastures to the north of the Bombay Hills. These are still zoned rural. If housing is allowed to spread into adjoining areas, you can imagine the difficulty in getting a quarry consent renewed, let alone a new one approved.
The government, in concert with Auckland Council, needs to think very carefully about how it needs to balance its housing ambitions with retaining local sources of the very material that will allow new houses (and the connecting roads and infrastructure) to be built.
On a wider front, the AQA would look to the new government for a share of the promised $1 billion annual spend in regional New Zealand. While it is not yet clear how this regional development fund is to be spent, it would be hard to overlook improved roads, bridges, new public buildings and rural broadband infrastructure, all of which will require increased volumes of aggregate.
We would expect some support here from councils, given such infrastructure can only align with your own objectives to see your communities become better connected and served.
Health and safety
Councils would also be well-served to take note of their own risks under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, passed under the previous National-led government.
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.
In the quarrying sector, this may potentially extend to those who own the land on which quarries are sited or where extraction takes place. A number of councils own quarries (think Kiwi Point on Wellington’s Ngauranga Gorge) and / or permit river shingle extraction on public land alongside rivers.
When I first raised these risks for councils in this column two years ago, I have to say even senior elected figures in LGNZ seemed unaware that quarries which their councils owned presented any potential risk.
The previous year had seen a death in a limestone quarry collapse at Waikari in North Canterbury on land leased from the Hurunui District Council. This should have awoken many landowners, including councils, to the risks and liabilities they face as quarry site owners.
Some quarry operators have been working with councils to remediate sites to reduce quarry walls to more acceptable slopes or fill in water pits. The liabilities extend much further and I strongly advise councils to take note.
One way you might get up to speed with our sector is by attending our annual conference.
In July this year, the AQA in conjunction with the Institute of Quarrying NZ (our industry’s professional body) will mark 50 years since the first quarrying conference. Of course, quarrying has been an activity since the first European settlers arrived and needed stone for buildings and later roads. But we took quite a while to formalise ourselves.
The capacious and well-appointed Claudelands event centre (owned by Hamilton City Council) has been booked for what promises to be a memorable event to mark 50 years since our industry came of age. If you are a potential attendee or visitor, mark July 18-20 in your calendar and look at the QuarryNZ website for registration details from April.
The AQA itself is also facing potential change and a possible merger with other sector organisations.
Whether we are part of a new organisation, merged with an existing body or maintained as we are, the quarrying industry will continue to provide New Zealand with the very foundations of continuing growth. We look forward to working with councils in achieving that growth for at least another half century – though let’s get through this year first.
This article was first published in the Perspectives 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.