Group to appeal reopening of line

Ontrack has given itself resource consent approval to reopen the Waiareka-Weston railway branch line, a vital component of a new $400 million cement plant proposed by Holcim (New Zealand) Ltd in the Waiareka Valley.

But it will not end there, as opponents of the cement plant plan to appeal the approval to the Environment Court.

That appeal will be lumped together with appeals against Holcim receiving resource consent from the Waitaki District and Otago Regional Council's to build and operate the plant, just west of Weston on the Weston-Ngapara Rd.

The railway branch line was closed in 1997 and the lines lifted in 1999, but its owner, the then New Zealand Railways, retained ownership in case it was ever needed for a cement plant.

The branch line needed to be reopened for the construction of the cement plant and to then transport bulk cement to the Timaru port.

However, when the Waitaki district plan was reviewed in 1993, the designation was not properly recorded.

OnTrack needed to have it redesignated before it could be used.

Independent commissioner Allan Cubitt recommended OnTrack grant the designation, subject to conditions.

Because OnTrack is a requiring authority under the Resource Management Act, it requested the Waitaki council to designate the branch line.

But as a requiring authority, OnTrack gets to make the final decision.

Last week OnTrack notified the council it accepted Mr Cubitt's recommendation, including all the conditions he laid down.

Yesterday, the Waiareka Valley Preservation Society, which opposed reopening the branch line and the cement plant, said it would appeal the decision.

"In principal, we had decided we would appeal based on the belief it should not be granted when it [the branch line] was primarily for a private industrial development," society member Bruce Albiston said yesterday.

A prehearing was expected to be held by the Environment Court in October.

The court had already indicated it wanted to hear all the appeals, including those against the cement plant, together.

Mr Albiston said OnTrack's decision was not unexpected, based on what the society heard at the hearing and the council's planning consultant's recommendation the designation be granted.

He was pleased that OnTrack had accepted the commissioner's recommendation in terms of noise restrictions placed on the operation of the branch line.

OnTrack had said that noise conditions should not be part of the designation and would be covered by an operational plan required for the line.

However, "following careful consideration" of the recommendations, OnTrack said it decided to accept the noise conditions proposed by the commissioner.

These covered noise limits on construction of the branch line and the trains which would use it along with monitoring noise levels when requested by the council.

"We maintain our view . . . that conditions on our designation are not necessary," OnTrack said.

"The decision to accept the commissioner's recommendations is a decision which has been reached based solely on the facts and circumstances relating to this particular branch line and its probable use."

OnTrack did not view that as a precedent for other railway lines nor the rail network as a whole.

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