26 Jul 2018

Small marae could sink massive Tegel mega-chook farm venture

8:33 pm on 26 July 2018

Northland people who dread the prospect of living near New Zealand's biggest chicken farm are celebrating after the project struck a setback.

The roadside signs against the Tegel farm were painted by a local artist.

The roadside signs against the Tegel farm were painted by a local artist. Photo: RNZ/Lois Williams.

Poultry giant Tegel has suspended its application for resource consent after consultants for two councils recommended it should be declined.

And the future of the project could hang on one small marae that's angry at what it calls Tegel's bulldozing tactics.

Independent Commissioners were set to begin hearing the case for and against the mega chook-farm in Dargaville next week.

Tegel wants to raise more than a million birds a year, partly in massive barns on former dairy farm land 12km south of Dargaville.

But planning experts who've reviewed the proposal for the Kaipara District and Northland Regional Councils have concluded that consent should not be granted.

Tegel has asked the commissioners to suspend its application while it considers their reports.

"The reports contained a constructive assessment of the application and in particular raise some issues that require further work" the company's lawyers have told the commissioners. .

"In order to respond to some of the constructive points raised, more time is required to obtain the information required to address those points and ensure the commissioners have the best available information," the company's lawyers told the commissioners.

The sticking point for the councils' planning consultants came down to the odour of a million-plus chickens.

Tegel's technical experts say the company has found ways to reduce the smell to 51 percent of a normal chook farm.

But experts consulted by the councils say that can't be verified and it's that uncertainty that could sink the project.

The consultants say the adverse effects on the neighbours could be significant and the worst-affected could be little Kāpehu marae next door.

The marae chair Margaret Mutu said Tegel had never considered the fact that whānau traditionally spend hours at a time in the urupa with their tupuna, and some would sleep there at times.

"We did try to warn them that you've got an urupa, a cemetery right on their boundary, and a marae (as well). These things are very tapu and you cannot violate the tapu. It's not only us who will get hurt, it's Tegel as well that will be hurt if they violate the tapu," she said .

Dr Mutu who is a Professor of Māori Studies at Auckland University, said the poultry giant put itself seriously offside with tangata whenua by refusing to pay qualified university authorities to carry out a cultural impact assessment of their application.

Instead it had hired a man from Ngāti Porou for the job.

"You do not go into Māori communities with absolute strangers and tell them to run an impact assessment and our people didn't want to know.

"Tegel said, 'We've hired him; he's going to do the job.' The result was that none of the marae in the northern Wairoa would allow Tegel to come onto their marae so they couldn't actually carry out their cultural impact assessment. "

The council consultants said the absence of a cultural impact assessment meant there was a lack of certainty over the potential effects of the Tegel farm on the urupa .

That had been a factor in the recommendation to decline the application for resource consents.

Those leading the charge against Tegel were celebrating today, but in a modest way.

Local resident Faith McManus said the objectors were expecting Tegel would regroup and come back.

"We are aware that they... may come back with another batch of experts as well as their existing 18 experts for the hearings and we are not going to let up on the pressure," she said.

"We are going to keep putting signs up and fund-raising and thinking of everything we can do."

The Northland Regional Council said Tegel had 112 days to come back and lift the suspension of its application and set another hearing date.