Three companies are trying again to secure land use rights for large-scale dairy farming in the Omarama and Ohau regions of the South Island.

They want to develop 16 dairy farms with up to 17,850 cows housed in cubicles.

Southdown Holdings, Williamson Holdings and Five Rivers obtained land use resource consents and certificates of compliance from the Waitaki council last year, but these were overturned by the High Court after a council staff member without the necessary delegated authority signed them off.

Now the applications have been lodged again and the land use resource consents this time will be notified for public submissions.

However, the companies have requested they be put on hold, pending decisions from Environment Canterbury on the necessary water resource consents.

The companies also reapplied to the Waitaki council for certificates of compliance for activities associated with the dairy farms that are permitted under the district plan. The certificates for dairy sheds and dairy farming activities have been issued and, under the Resource Management Act, are not subject to the public notification process.

The three developments have been controversial, leading to opposition from the local community and national groups such as the Green Party, Environmental Defence Society and Forest and Bird.

They have opposed the dairy farms and proposed expansion of irrigation in the Mackenzie Basin, calling for an overall management plan to protect the Omarama, Ohau and Mackenzie Basin landscape.

Council chief executive Michael Ross said yesterday the council had to issue certificates of compliance if the developments complied with the district plan. The land use resource consents would be notified for public submissions because of the public interest.

Environmental Defence Society chairman Gary Taylor was "gobsmacked" and said the companies had "acted disingenuously and in breach of the spirit" of an agreement reached during the High Court proceedings.

"Our concerns were and remain the effects of the proposal on the fragile and unique tussock grasslands and landscapes of the Mackenzie Basin. We do not believe that the future of this iconic part of New Zealand should be decided by individual resource consent applications.

"We are now assessing the recent decisions with a view to filing fresh proceedings in the High Court."

Southdown Holdings director Richard Peacocke disputed that the agreement had been breached.

He said it was agreed that before the applicants activated new resource consents they would advise the society, and it was not intended to activate the most recent consent applications until a decision was received on the water consents.

- APN