The Government has signalled that 2020 will see major announcements on infrastructure. Given this is an election year, there will no doubt be plenty of photo opportunities of Ministers in fluoro jackets wielding spades or sitting on diggers.
Nothing wrong with any of that from the perspective of the quarrying sector which provides the aggregate, rock and sand that is the foundation of all infrastructure. With New Zealand's population forecast to hit five million this year – and perhaps nearly eight billion by 2060 – infrastructure is going to continue to be a focus for any Government.
The current administration has also been active in reviewing anything that moves (or doesn't) and again that is welcome. Our sector has long been promoting the need to locate aggregate near where it's needed to avoid the high extra costs of trucking this in, not to mention the unnecessary congestion and emissions.
It was pleasing to see that the Government's new Resource Strategy for minerals and petroleum, launched in August, recognises the need to retain local sources of quarry materials.
The strategy even repeats the AQA's own calculations that transporting aggregate sees the cost double in the first 30km "which is why it's important that quarries are located near their end users".
This is the key message we have been trying to get successive Governments to recognise, so we feel we are making progress. That said, there are still reviews being completed across a whole raft of other Government policies; if these don't align, New Zealand will struggle to build the one-million-plus homes it needs over the next 40 years, as well as all the other buildings and the roads to connect them.
The National Policy Statement (NPS) on Highly Productive Lands is one example where alignment is needed. There's been a lot of talk by Ministers about the need to retain land such as that with rich soils around my home area of Pukekohe.
It's not well known that the best return on rural land actually comes from quarrying. It can produce nearly $80,000 a year per hectare, a return that is 10 and even 100 times what farming activity produces. This now needs to be acknowledged across Government policies so we get the right settings. Yes, there is value in protecting Pukekohe rich soils from urban sprawl; the same goes for the very foundations of Auckland's future growth – aggregate, rock and sand. If Government does not act to protect Auckland's abundant sources of such materials from urban encroachment, we will only see more trucks from Northland, Waikato and perhaps even further afield travelling to and from our major centre.
As with highly productive farmland, it is imperative that local aggregate resources throughout the country are identified, appropriately protected from urban encroachment and able to be developed for extraction, subject to appropriate environmental controls and site restoration planning.
The AQA last year worked with GNS to help Opotiki District Council identify future aggregate sources after a proposed major upgrade to Opotiki Harbour had a cost blow out, partly through poor planning to source local aggregates. We have seen the same issue arise with other major projects such as the Transmission Gully Road project near Wellington.
Opotiki's council is now expecting two new resource consent applications for new quarries which should assist with the harbour development and enable better planning for aggregate availability and supply to the wider Bay of Plenty region over the next decade or more.
The AQA is ready to work with any council to identify local aggregate resources.
As things stand, the Resource Strategy for all its support of accessing local resources, also backs the Government's vexatious "No new mines on conservation land" policy when a third of future hard rock aggregate resources sit on the DOC estate, including stewardship land. If all of that land is roped off to any extraction at all, there will be major impacts on future infrastructure development.
Alongside the Resource Strategy, the AQA has also recently submitted on draft National Policy Statements for Urban Development, and is preparing submissions on Indigenous Biodiversity and the review of the Crown Minerals Act, all of which have further potential impacts on access to aggregate.
To cap it all, the review of the Resource Management Act is gathering pace. This presents the opportunity to Government to align all its policies and deliver the coherent stream of economic and environmental benefits envisaged under the Resource Strategy. The quarry industry, as the providers of the foundations on which everything is built, believes getting those fundamental policy settings right will see the benefits shared by everyone.
- Wayne Scott is the CEO of Aggregate and Quarry Association (AQA).