Opposition to reopening railway line

More than 200 people or groups have opposed reopening the Waiareka to Weston railway line - a vital component of Holcim (New Zealand) Ltd's plan to build a $200 million cement plant in the Waiareka Valley.

The railway line was closed and the tracks were lifted in 1999, but ownership was retained by OnTrack (the New Zealand Railways Corporation) in case it was ever needed for a cement plant near Weston.

Holcim has identified the line as the preferred option for transporting cement from the new plant.

But in November 1999, after the Waiareka Valley Preservation Society challenged the use of the line, the Environment Court found that the line designation was not listed in the Waitaki District Council's annual plan.

The court ruled OnTrack needed to apply to the council to have the designation reinstated, although through a shorter process than that laid down in the Resource Management Act.

The council earlier this year notified property owners along the railway line and in Weston that OnTrack had served a notice of requirement to redesignate the line, and 201 submissions opposing the move were received, council planning manager Jack Chandra said yesterday.

There were 11 in support of the designation and three were neutral.
In some cases, more than one submission was received from a household and ''quite a few'' were from people who did not live next to the rail corridor, he said.

Mr Chandra said 43 of those submitters wanted to appear at a hearing, scheduled by the council for May 21 to 23 before an independent commissioner Allan Cubitt.

They included OnTrack, which would present the case for the designation, Holcim, the Waiareka Valley Preservation Society, Transit NZ, Health South, the Weston School board of trustees and Waitaha.

Before the 1990s, the railway line was designated in the district plan. OnTrack asked the council to continue that designation when the new district plan was being prepared.

OnTrack and the council said a mistake was made when the designation was not clearly listed in the new district plan.

The error was compounded in a series of plan maps produced by the council in 1999 which added ''Closed'' to the railway line.

OnTrack said that when the line was lifted in 1999 there was a deliberate decision to retain the branch line because of the potential business from the cement plant.

However, without the designation the line could not be reinstated or operated to provide a service to the proposed cement plant.

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