Should farming activities or protection of indigenous
vegetation take priority on a contentious piece of privately
owned land at Hawea Flat?
That is the question the Environment Court will answer today,
in a decision Judge John Hassan says is ''by no means an easy
The ruling could have significant implications for the
farming industry if an interim enforcement order issued
against farmer Dougal Innes earlier this month is upheld,
lawyer Graeme Todd submitted to the court in Queenstown
The order was obtained by the Royal Forest and Bird
Protection Society of New Zealand, which considers protecting
the indigenous vegetation on Mr Innes' land a matter of
Mr Innes had already disced a large part of the site before
his farming activities were halted by the order, which he has
applied to the court to have cancelled.
In closing submissions, Forest and Bird lawyer Sally Gepp
said the consequences of Mr Innes not being able to cultivate
his land this year should not override a clear breach of the
district plan, the adverse effects already caused at the site
and the further effects which would occur if the order was
''Protection of significant indigenous vegetation is a matter
of national importance which all decision-makers must
recognise and provide for,'' Ms Gepp said.
The most appropriate forum for considering Mr Innes' proposed
farming activity was a resource consent process where all
parties could have a view on the matter through notification.
''[Mr Innes] is required to seek consent for indigenous
vegetation clearance like any other person.''
It was ''not an ex-appropriation of his rights'', but rather
a normal and legal application of the district plan.
Mr Todd, who is acting for neighbouring landowner and
interested party James Cooper, said the significant question
if the interim order was upheld was: which landowner in the
district would be next?
''If farmers are required to spend thousands of dollars
applying for resource consents for every act of clearance of
their land and if their ability to cultivate and farm their
land is curtailed by a standard that they are not allowed to
clear pasture even if a few indigenous species are present on
a site, this has significant implications for the farming
industry not only in this region but in other regions.''
Mr Innes' lawyer, Jan Caunter, said Mr Innes had ''asked all
of the right questions and sought advice from all the right
places'' on matters relevant to buying the property and which
might have affected his ability to use it.
''He sought LIM reports which did not alert him to the
presence of indigenous vegetation on the site. It did,
however, alert him to activities that had previously been
approved on the site, which were in many respects similar to
what he wished to do,'' Ms Caunter said.
''[He] received what essentially amounted to 'yes, you can go
Federated Farmers lawyer Richard Gardner said because the
land had been used for primary production purposes for a long
time and cultivated on occasion for those purposes, Mr Innes'
claims to existing use rights were ''well founded''.
''There is no basis upon which the interim enforcement order
can be sustained ... Mr Innes and the other farmers in the
Queenstown Lakes district who are concerned about the
implications of the interim enforcement order should be left
to go about their lawful farming activities,'' Mr Gardner
Further consideration was given to a compromise, as mooted by
Mr Todd on Wednesday.
Judge Hassan asked three ecologists - who were appearing for
the council, Mr Innes and Forest and Bird - their view on an
appropriate width for a possible buffer zone on the southern
boundary of Mr Innes' property, to protect indigenous
vegetation on neighbouring land owned by Contact Energy.
Their opinions ranged from 20m to 200m.