Consents given for expansion of Puketutu Island recycling site without public input

A stink is brewing over Auckland Council's decision to approve behind closed doors a major expansion of a waste recycling plant on Puketutu Island in the Manukau Harbour.

Compost maker Living Earth, a subsidiary of Chinese-owned Waste Management, was issued resource consents just before Christmas for the continuation of green waste processing and the construction of a food composting facility on the island.

The consents were granted on a non-notified basis, meaning the public did not have a say.

It is the latest twist in a long-running saga surrounding the facility. In 2006 the Environment Court granted Living Earth a 10-year consent to process 75,000 tonnes of garden waste annually on the island, despite vigorous opposition from the then Manukau City and Auckland Regional Councils, as well as local residents. The latest consents have been issued for a 22-year period.

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Ian Wedding, 76, who has lived near the island for more than 40 years, is angry about the lack of public consultation.

"I don't believe it's what Sir Henry Kelliher left the island for," Wedding said. "My understanding is he left it for the people of Auckland, not to become industrialised."

Kelliher, founder of Dominion Breweries, bought the island in 1938 and transferred ownership to a charitable trust before his death in 1991.

Wedding said the public should have had a say on Living Earth's soon-to-be-built food composting facility.

It is understood construction of the building is expected to begin in the third quarter of this year, and it will be more than 130m long, 66m wide and 13m high.

Robert Hunter, of Auckland Council's resource consents team, said a thorough assessment of the consent application was undertaken, including a number of peer reviews, which determined its impact would be "less than minor".

That meant it was required to proceed on a non-notified basis, Hunter said.

Bruce Cliffe, another local resident and former Cabinet minister, said Living Earth's plans were "more than minor".

"It is large and has a very long life, with huge volumes of compost and raw food waste, collected Auckland-wide, to be processed in a 13-metre high concrete food plant, with the necessary heavy vehicles running through a bird sanctuary out to an island at the heart of a hidden gem," Cliffe said.

Jim Jackson, chairman of the Manukau Harbour Restoration Society, said he was surprised to learn of Living Earth's consents.

"I was under the impression that Puketutu Island, in a period of years, was to be turned into a place for the people," he said. "To build a large structure on the island would appear to be contradictory to that."

Waste Management's general manager for technical services Dave Perkins said Living Earth had operated with a high level of consent compliance on Puketutu since 2007.

During the application process the firm contacted parties including the Mangere Bridge Residents and Ratepayers Association, Villa Maria, iwi and Watercare.

"These parties provided their written approvals," Perkins said. "In addition, Living Earth consulted with all on-island residents who also provided their approvals."

Dawsons Catering founder Grahame Dawson, whose company manages the Kelliher Estate function venue on the island, described Living Earth as a "really good neighbour" and said his firm had no concerns about the consents.