21 Jan 2016

Farmers say buffer zones a land grab

12:33 pm on 21 January 2016

Proposed buffer zones around rural industries - including oil and gas facilities - amount to a council-approved land grab, Taranaki farmers say.

South Taranaki couple Philip and Ainsley Luscombe say almost half of their 200 hectare farm will fall into buffer zones.

South Taranaki couple Philip and Ainsley Luscombe say almost half of their 200 hectare farm will fall into the proposed buffer zones. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The South Taranaki District Council wants to introduce zones of between 150 and 300 metres that will mean some farmers need resource consents to build on their own land.

Philip and Ainsley Luscombe's 200ha dairy farm is next to the Kapuni Production Station, and has two oil wells on the property and one bordering it.

They are the fourth generation to work the land, which the family bought in 1882.

Mrs Luscombe said if the proposed buffer zones came into effect just under half of their farm would be affected.

She described how the zone would affect one block of the family's farm that bordered the Kapuni industrial zone.

"You can see the towers from Vector's gas treatment plant and hear the noise from the Ballance Agri-Nutrients urea plant in the background.

"This is an 80 acre block of our farm. It's bordered by STOS (Shell Todd Oil Services), by Vector and by Ballance. Effectively, only 20 percent of this particular block would be able to be built on."

The Kapuni gas production plant is nestled in South Taranaki farmland.

The Kapuni Production Station is next to the Luscombes' dairy farm. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Mrs Luscombe said other industries had bought up buffer zones if they required them but oil and gas businesses had not.

"They've gone to lots of expense and bought land around them to provide those buffer zones - so Fonterra's done that, Taranaki By-Products have done that.

"Ballance and the other petrochemical industries are the only ones that haven't done it. Rather, they're using this proposal to get a free lunch and get a buffer zone by stealth."

Council's involvement challenged

Mr Luscombe said farmers generally had a good relationship with the oil and gas industry and normally negotiated directly over easements they required.

He could not see why the council had become involved.

"The issue is not about accommodating plants, it's about a vast area of land being tied up unnecessarily which bears no resemblance to either party's desires.

"I don't see this new rule as helping industries at all. In fact, I don't think they want it anymore than we want it. It's just bureaucracy gone mad really."

Mr Luscombe said he doubted that the proposal met Resource Management Act requirements for the council to consult with those affected.

He feared that if rural industries were offered buffer zones with no strings attached they would jump at the chance.

"It appears that if this is offered around here, there are lots of people who will take free buffer zones and take rights away from freehold property. It's sort of like a bit of a lolly-scramble I think."

Darryl Smith's family has farmed at Kapuni since 1881. He says the buffer zones represent theft by stealth.

Darryl Smith's family has farmed at Kapuni since 1881. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Darryl Smith, whose family have farmed on Palmer Rd in Kapuni since 1881, said the proposed setback ignored his property rights.

"I feel that it is basically theft by stealth. A setback should be imposed on the industry; the setback should be within their section.

"The setback should not be imposed on the existing surrounding landowners, especially landowners that have been there much longer than the new industrial business."

Mr Smith said some farmers would be willing to sell land to help establish buffer zones and then lease it back, but that was not an option for him.

"Any change of tenure of our land would be very worrisome to us. We've been here since 1881 and got fourth generation here now and that would be a loss of connection to the land. I mean, we just don't sell land."

Call for submissions

South Taranaki District Council environmental services group manager John McKenzie said the idea of buffer zones was raised by industry as part of district plan discussions.

Mr McKenzie said the thinking behind it was two-fold.

"You've got to realise that some of these large industries have a huge economic benefit for the country and for Taranaki, but equally we want to protect the amenity of our residents who live within those areas.

"We'd like them to have dwellings that are perhaps insulated for noise so they can sleep at night, for example."

Mr McKenzie said he understood some farmers were upset that buffer zones appeared to cover much of their property.

"We have every sympathy for those people and we do hope that they'll make their voice heard through the submissions process, and come and tell the council about the implications of what's being proposed so the council can make an appropriate decision."

Submissions to the district plan close on 30 January and public hearings are set to begin in March.