Holcim (New Zealand) Ltd’s application to build a $200m cement plant near Weston is not about economics versus the environment, the company’s counsel, Mark Christensen, told the first day of a hearing in Oamaru yesterday.
While that was the theme of many opposing the proposal, it was a "false dichotomy" in this context, Mr Christensen said.
"This application is about sustainable management. The proposed cement plant will use the most up-to-date processes and technology to minimise effects on the environment. It will not only provide the Waitaki area with an exceptional opportunity to diversify its economic base, it will mean the continuation and expansion of the economic benefits to New Zealand from the production of cement."
In the 1980s, Holcim’s predecessor company, New Zealand Cement Holdings Ltd, obtained the zonings and approvals necessary for a cement plant and quarries on the same sites which were the subject of these applications. The only reason that a plant was not there already was because of a downturn in the economy during the 1980s, he said. Demand had recently grown back to levels where it exceeded the capacity of the Cape Foulwind plant near Westport.
There were only three sites in New Zealand where the manufacture of cement was provided for in the district plan _ Cape Foulwind, Golden Bay near Whangarei, and Weston.
Mr Christensen said evidence was "unequivocal" that adverse effects could be avoided and mitigated. The effects on air quality would be minor. Modelling predicted there would be minimal decline in air quality in Weston or surrounding areas.
Dr Francesca Kelly, a physician and public health specialist providing evidence for Holcim, was unequivocal there would be no adverse health effects from the operation of the plant, Mr Christensen said.
Strategy and development general manager Paul Commons said the New Zealand cement market had grown more than 30% during the past five years to the current level of about 1.4 million tonnes per annum, and the market was forecast to grow by an average of 1.2% per annum in the long term. For the past five years, Holcim had been importing cement in response to high demand. In the year to March 2007, 22,800 non-apartment dwellings were built in New Zealand with an average floor area of 200sq m. Those new homes translated into annual demand of 200,000-300,000 tonnes of cement. Those houses also required roading, footpaths, and services.
Holcim’s sole New Zealand plant, at Westport, was running well but it was producing cement at capacity. The company’s shipping capacity and marine terminals throughout New Zealand were also fully used, Mr Commons said.
Holcim’s capacity limitations were also accompanied by the costs associated with ageing assets. The Westport plant was built 50 years ago and MV Westport, built in 1975, needed to be replaced within five years.
Holcim (New Zealand) chief executive Jeremy Smith said the company would not have filed consent applications without being fully confident of meeting the required standards and guidelines.
Holcim engineer Stuart Ward said Holcim plants were governed by the company’s own worldwide standards for emissions monitoring and reporting (EMR), based on best practice, in addition to any local regulator requirements. There was continuous monitoring of specific key substances, discontinuous monitoring of additional key substances and careful monitoring equipment calibration (at least once a year). Dust, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and volatile organic compounds must be measured continuously, while other compounds were measured at least annually. External specialists assisted to give independent verification.
The Weston plant EMR programme went beyond those Holcim monitoring requirements, with continuous monitoring of carbon monoxide, hydrogen chloride and ammonia.
Panel chairman Dr Phil Mitchell said the hearing was likely to take longer than the three weeks set down. An alternative hearing time has not yet been set.