Plans to build a controversial feedlot able to hold more than 2000 cattle in rural Canterbury have been scrapped. However, this is only “for the interim”, its owner says.
Last year, Wongan Hills Limited (WHL) – a farming operation owned by Brent Thomas – lodged consents for land use and discharge of odour to air, to build and operate four composting barns, otherwise known as feedlots, in Kaituna Valley on Banks Peninsula near Te Waihora Lake Ellesmere.
The WHL operation sits on 4106ha of land with 3532ha in productive blocks farming 22,500 stock units in a mix of beef, dairy and sheep.
According to the consent assessment of environmental effects prepared for the company, the feedlots had been planned to hold up to 2200 cattle with each coming in at a live weight of 500kg and leaving at between 650-700 kg after being in the barn for roughly three months.
They were reportedly for the high-end Wagyu market.
Just before Christmas last year, Environment Canterbury (ECan) decided to publicly notify the consents, saying it was concerned there was potential for water to enter the barns.
“This arises from uncertainty in the flood modelling, the most significant of which is the potential for inundation from localised high-intensity rainfall events in the hill catchment immediately above the proposed barns,” it said in a memo dated December 21.
The council was of the opinion that the remaining uncertainty in relation to impacts from flooding could lead to an unquantified, but “potentially more than minor” effect on Te Waihora.
“Te Waihora is a degraded catchment and water quality outcomes are currently not met. Any additional effect in respect of water quality is likely to constitute a cumulative effect in combination with other activities within the Roto that is more than minor.”
The consents received stiff opposition, with a group of locals sending a petition to ECan calling for them to be stopped.
In total, according to ECan’s website, there were 128 submissions, 28 of which wanted to be heard in person.
“General themes include concerns over the flooding risk, impact on Te Waihora and animal welfare. The majority of the submissions received oppose the applications.”
A hearing was due to be heard next month. However, this week Thomas confirmed WHL had formally withdrawn the application “for the interim”.
With consents already being held for an alternative site elsewhere, ongoing “time delays mean that the alternative site will now be developed first, with the Kaituna site potentially revisited in the future”.
The company considered the range of environmental effects at issue for the Kaituna proposal were narrow and it was confident they would have favoured the granting of consent, he said.
WHL was, however, “concerned that, like the application process to date, any hearing process for its Kaituna proposal would be potentially protracted and expensive”.
Thomas criticised the Resource Management Act, saying it was not serving the productive sector well. He pointed to recent comments by Climate Change Commission chair Dr Rod Carr suggesting that feed barns were an innovative environmental farming system.
“Both ECan and Christchurch City Council senior leadership have not been at all helpful in this process and in fact have at times been obstructive and seem to have a systemic culture of saying ‘No’ rather than ‘How can we?’ Both organisations are severely understaffed and are under significant time stress,” Thomas said.