The Supreme Court has upheld resource consents for three salmon farms to be developed in the Marlborough Sounds by the King Salmon company, but in an important win for the protection of "outstanding landscapes", it has ruled against a fourth site.
The decision gives a major victory to the Environmental Defence Society, which took its appeal against the resource consent granted for a salmon farm at Paparua, Port Gore, because it believed the decision had failed to uphold important principles in the Coastal Policy Statement, which has legal force under the Resource Management Act.
"This is an incredibly important decision," said EDS coastal policy expert Raewyn Peart.
"I've been working on the RMA since it came into force in 1991 and this is the first time this issue has gone to the Supreme Court.
"It looks at this whole issue of whether the legislation, with a National Policy Statement, provides a binding bottom line (for environmental protection), whether it protects special places, and the court has said 'yes'," she told BusinessDesk.
"This has enormous implications for any decision-making that's now going to affect our outstanding landscapes."
However, the Marlborough Sounds lobby group, Save Our Sounds, failed in its application to have a further three other salmon farm resource consents overturned, to the bitter disappointment of members who attended the reading of the judgment in Wellington.
That was essentially because the Board of Inquiry that heard the resource consent
applications agreed the Paparua site met the standard for an area of "outstanding natural character and outstanding natural landscape", which qualified it for greater protection under the RMA than other areas.
The board was one of the first to consider a resource consent application under a fast-tracked RMA process enacted in 2011, and concluded it could exercise an "overall judgment" based on the principles of the RMA.
A majority of four of the five Supreme Court judges, including Chief Justice Sian Elias, who heard the case concluded the board was wrong. Justice William Young issued a dissenting judgment.
At the same time, today's two Supreme Court decisions clear the way for King Salmon, which originally applied for resource consents at eight sites in the Marlborough Sounds, to develop three of them.