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MAR 14

Industry – does it matter?

It is hard to make omelettes without breaking eggs; equally, it is hard to have industrial activity without some downside. It is easy to dismiss smelly, noisy or dusty activities as unacceptable without thinking through the implications. Does it matter that the activity has been in place a long time and brings spending power into the community? Does it matter that the district plan directs similar activities into specific areas recognising that regardless what any particular consent might say, boundaries are porous and leakage of smell, noise and dust inherent in any given process will happen from time to time? Does it matter that property values and activities reflect the district plan?

Reverse sensitivity is an issue relevant for most manufacturers, in particular those in the heavy industry sector. We are again seeing this as a major talking point, focusing around the Woolston area of Christchurch, where Gelatine producer Gelita is facing earthquake and snow damage repairs that require a large investment from offshore to address the damage. Gelita have applied to Environment Canterbury (ECan) for a three year period in which they may emit some offensive smells over their boundaries, while repairs and upgrades to fix and greatly improve their environmental impact are put in place.

While ECan and the community decide whether this can happen, there are some things which should be considered in the debate before a decision is made. Gelita have operated on the site for around 100 years; they currently employ 60 people, spending around $7 million into Christchurch directly through wages, rates, waste charges and materials, spending a total of around $20 million throughout New Zealand in the last financial year. This translates to around 5 jobs in the wider economy for every job at Gelita. Gelatine processing extracts value from our primary waste stream, if the material can’t be processed it would go to land fill; a cost not a benefit.

Gelita have been working hard to fix the damage, while making upgrades to significantly reduce their impact and odour. They have been going through a process of investigation and receiving reports on how to best address the odour issues, as well as consulting with the local community.

Extensive repairs and upgrades are not an overnight event, nor is convincing head office that a $20m capital investment is a good idea, particularly when new investment might be stranded if the public, spurred by others chasing their own interests, will not tolerate what they see as just “smelly” factories. Headlines around a theme of smelly factories do nothing to support the case for foreign investment case in Woolston.

We end up with a chicken or egg situation, investment will improve performance but the fact that the investment might be stranded makes the return on the investment less certain. Without ECan and community support it is highly likely Gelita will depart, a great loss to the community.

The consenting, without notification, of incompatible activities in the Woolston area has fuelled the issue and resulted in reverse sensitivity. Allowing retail businesses in such close proximity to long established heavy industry businesses is always going to result in complaints, be it noise, smell or something else. But new developments in the area also have incentive to complain in an attempt to change or close existing enterprises. At the time of purchase, the cost of land and property in the area takes into account the heavy industry zoning, and the environment which follows this. The incentive is to buy at this lower rate, and then drive the “undesirable” enterprises out, to push up property prices and increase rental returns.

These situations require some compromise to find a solution; we cannot fix things by rejecting long established heavy industry. It may not be as “nice” as a retail complex, but it is an important part of our community and economy, we should fight to keep it. Our communities must value their long established industries, for the great benefits they have brought in the past, and will continue to do so in the future, while accepting the importance of manufacturing activity staying on shore.

tags: woolston, gelita, reverse sensitivity, industry, manufacturing, exports, zoning, earthquake, investment
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