A Hawea Flat farmer can continue cultivating his land after
an Environment Court ruling found in his favour yesterday.
The court cancelled an interim enforcement order which had
stopped Dougal Innes from carrying out any further vegetation
clearance or discing on his property next to the Clutha River
since March 3.
The case was brought by the Royal Forest and Bird Protection
Society of New Zealand, which said significant native
vegetation was being destroyed by the cultivation work.
Resource consent should have been required under the rules of
the Queenstown Lakes District Council's district plan, the
In delivering his finding verbally yesterday following a
four-day hearing in Queenstown, Judge John Hassan said
continuation of the interim order would serve ''no valid
resource management purpose''.
Mr Innes could resume developing the area of land he had
already cleared and disced, as it was unlikely any indigenous
vegetation - as defined by the district plan - remained or
could be recovered.
It was unlikely the district plan would be breached by any
But the court found clearance of indigenous vegetation on the
as-yet-uncultivated remaining land would be a restricted
Mr Innes could not cultivate that area without first getting
resource consent, if his proposed activity required it.
The court was satisfied Mr Innes had ''demonstrated at least
good intent'', Judge Hassan said.
That was evident in the fact he had not disturbed areas of
his land containing historical features while waiting for
advice from an archaeological authority and in the patience
he had shown during the Forest and Bird legal action.
Forest and Bird had argued environmental effects were the
critical consideration, rather than the effects on the
But Judge Hassan said it was relevant to consider financial
hardship to a person.
The court considered it unjust to maintain the order for
reasons including the ''undue financial hardship'' it would
impose on Mr Innes who had acted responsibly and with due
diligence before beginning clearance work.
Council officers who advised Mr Innes he did not require
resource consent for the activity ''could not be said to have
obviously got it wrong either''.
It was ''most unfortunate that due to the council's systems
error'' the ecological assessment findings of the property -
noting the presence of indigenous vegetation - were not
Mr Innes - who had told the court he invested his family's
life savings in the property - expressed relief yesterday,
following what he described as a stressful few weeks.
''I'm happy, there's no doubt about that.''
He thanked his supporters, including the large number of
farmers who had been present in court throughout the hearing.
Following the decision, Forest and Bird Otago Southland field
officer Sue Maturin said a special part of Central Otago had
''If the Queenstown Lakes District Council had acted to stop
the destruction as soon as Forest and Bird alerted it, we may
not have lost one of the best and biggest remaining areas of
short tussock grasslands, cushion fields, and dry land
ecosystems in the Upper Clutha Basin.
''This case highlights the need for councils to be much
better at advising landowners about their obligations under
district plans; to have clear rules to protect biodiversity;
and to strongly uphold the integrity of their plans.''
Forest and Bird would decide on any further action after it
had seen the written findings, its lawyer Sally Gepp said.