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The Gore District Council has confirmed the public will not be able to make submissions on Solid Energy's planned lignite conversion plant near Mataura. The plant will process about 148,000 tonnes of low-grade lignite coal from a nearby mine annually, turning it into briquettes suitable for fuel for households and industries. A further 15,000 tonnes of lignite will be required annually to fire its on-site boiler.
When the application was lodged, the council indicated the plant largely met the requirements of the District Plan and there was probably no need to advertise the consent and call for public submissions.
However, that created a storm of protest from an anti-mining group and the Green Party, who were concerned about the potential environmental impacts of mining and the plant's operations.
The council hired a planning consultant and two independent commissioners to reconsider how the consent process should be handled.
Their decision, announced last night, was that the consent need not be notified.
The consultants, David Pullar and David Whitney, will still study Solid Energy's application and decide whether the plant should be granted consent and what conditions should be placed on its operations.
But Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks said last night their considerations would be held in private and no general submissions would be accepted.
"They may well talk to interested parties, but there won't be any submission process."
The commissioners were experienced and independent and the council stood by their decision, he said.
He said he realised some people would be angry and disappointed.
"I would direct them to the commissioners' decision and to look at the rationale behind it. It has been a robust process."
Green Party lignite spokesman Gareth Hughes last night described the decision as "very disappointing".
"We've called for it to be publicly notified because the public should be able to submit on the negative environmental and economic impacts of the proposal.
"It will have significant local impacts, and the big issue is it will have even more significant national impacts. It will have a fiscal impact and it will impact on our clean, green brand," he said.
"While the rest of the world is moving away from fossil fuels towards greener technology, we're going the other way."
An estimated 15 billion tonnes of lignite lie beneath Southland and South Otago.
Mr Hicks said the briquetting decision should "in no way be construed" as an indicator of what processes might occur with any future consent applications involving lignite.
"Each will be assessed on its merits, as required by the Resource Management Act."