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A ''catch-22'' legal problem involving a quarry on Otago Peninsula means all parties, including the applicant and many submitters, may have been wasting their time attending a consent hearing.
That possibility was raised at a Dunedin City Council planning hearing yesterday by Auckland lawyer Tony Woodhouse, appearing for Megan Bardell and Graeme Granger, who live near the quarry, which overlooks Papanui Inlet.
Some neighbours are worried the quarry will be greatly expanded, and evidence given on behalf of the applicant quarry operator said ''further excavation of the entire hillside'' was being considered. In a submission on the hearing's first day, Mr Woodhouse said the applicant
was seeking a variation of an earlier consent, granted in 2007, involving the quarry at Geary's Hill.
But big changes from the previous conditions, including extending quarry operations beyond the earlier allowed area, and extensive activities in one part of the site, meant that, in law, the matter ''can't be regarded as a variation'' of the earlier consent.
This would be ''totally inappropriate'', he said.
The matter could be considered as a new consent, but this was also potentially problematic, including because the public advertisement of the hearing had not included some key aspects of the proposed changes.
If the variation was granted, it could leave the way open for a judicial review to be sought by a concerned party.
But it could be that if a new consent was considered and an array of ''quite rigorous and sensible'' conditions was required, the parties might not seek to challenge the matter in court, he said.
Submissions on the variation application are being heard by independent commissioner Andrew Henderson, of Christchurch.
The hearing involves a quarry, which had operated as a smaller farm quarry before a consent allowed it to expand in 2007.
Steve Clearwater Contracting, headed by peninsula resident Steve Clearwater, has been accused by council staff of not complying with rules designed to restrict his quarry's operation.
But evidence on behalf of the quarry operator yesterday disputed aspects of this, also saying there were errors in a key council report, and council monitoring had been inadequate.
Council officials say the quarry was found to be operating beyond its boundary early last year, by extracting rock from further up Geary's Hill than was permitted.
The applicant, Peninsula Holdings Trust, is seeking a variation on its existing consent, to legalise what has been done, but it is also seeking to expand its footprint for future operations.
The application has prompted 40 submissions, including 32 from neighbours, many opposing it.
Giving evidence, town planning and resource management consultant Keith Hovell earlier yesterday said quarries were clearly needed in the public interest.
But this was a case of ''everyone wants to go to heaven, but no-one wants to die'', Mr Hovell added.
A quarry was also needed on the Peninsula, including to help build and repair roads and other assets, and some quarrying had long been undertaken near the current site.
Current circumstances had arisen from several factors, including a ''lack of clarity in conditions of the 2007 consent, action taken at the request of council'' and activities of the consent holder.
The Resource Management Act's purposes would be ''better achieved'' by approving the variation than declining it, he said.
Mr Woodhouse also noted that Ms Bardell and Mr Granger had taken a ''neutral'' view at an earlier hearing, involving the 2007 consent, but opposed the present application because several conditions had been repeatedly breached.
Ms Bardell said she and her partner had bought their land in 1996 and ''fallen in love'' with the area.
There had been ''no problems'' with a nearby small quarry, screened by trees, which operated nearby for about three weeks a year.
But the later expanded quarry operations included a crusher unit which generated ''very loud, repetitive and irritating'' noise. Another resident,
Dr John Parker, warned that all of Geary's Hill could eventually be removed by the operator, despite its ''outstanding'' landscape status.
The quarry owner-operator had repeatedly breached consent conditions, poor compliance was likely in future, and the council had failed to undertake proper monitoring and enforcement, he said.
The hearing ends today.