The Woolston gelatine plant has generated a gawdawful stench for at least the decade I've lived here.* Rolling up the windows while driving past is pretty standard drill. And it's been worse since the earthquakes.The mobile Nimbys are motivated to perceive these residual problems as significant, using every opportunity to whip up opinion against any previously acceptable use as unacceptable.In normal times this creates problems, in a disaster recovery situation it becomes a more serious issue. Industry and manufacturing has been a lifeline for our city through our disaster, the sector kept going and, through the efforts of many, maintained activity.Our disaster has forced our city to become more diverse, more mixed. Different sensitivities have been pushed together and sadly, we have not seen an expansion in the tolerance of established use.Minor problems become significant when more sensitive people are present to witness them. We all know that dealing with problems becomes all the more challenging when earthquake damage insurance difficulties and weather extremes are in the mix.The reverse sensitivities in Woolston are not new; noise and smell have always been potential issues, however these existing uses need to be tolerated as many jobs are threatened, being replaced by a handful of hospitality and retail jobs. Does that make any sense? How would you feel if your job was threatened in this way?
A few short months after the earthquakes, Cassels & Sons opened their excellent brewpub close to the Woolston plant. It is a glorious place to spend the afternoon when the sun is out and the wind is coming from the right direction; we were there on Sunday. But when the wind isn't right... well, they have a phone number displayed prominently for patrons to call Environment Canterbury with complaints. Cassels are expanding with a large section of retail shops soon to open beside the brewpub.
The gelatine plant clearly pre-dated the retail development. It's also very likely that the gelatine stench predated most of the current owners of the houses just up the road from the plant; they would have bought their properties at a substantial discount reflecting the disamenity. Anyone who bought a house there after the plant was established came to the nuisance as much as did Cassels.
So, it's almost a classic coming-to-the-nuisance case. And, it's also one where there's a strong residual claimant on most of the abatement benefits: the Cassels family. Their brewpub and assorted retail holdings will do rather better when the foul winds cease to blow. In this kind of case, we expect bargaining to efficiency: if it's cheaper for the gelatine plant to change their operations or to move than it is for Cassels to bear the stench, then they can pay the plant to do it. It might have been too hard for the dispersed homeowners to pay the gelatine plant for abatement, but Cassels could pretty easily coordinate things if they wanted a Coasean solution.
But it's a bit more complicated. The gelatin plant may have been breaching some of its emissions consents:
As one of the three air monitoring stations set up in Christchurch by Environment Canterbury (ECan) is directly across the river from Cassels, ECan is well aware of the problem too. As ECan monitoring officer Chris Elsmore explains, there is the odour from gelatine production and there have also been breaches from sulphuric acid production - that would account for the sulphur smell.So if Gelita is emitting more noxious fumes than they have the right to emit, and if it is more expensive for them to abate down to Code than for Cassels to bear the stench, they could pay Cassels to stop complaining. Cassels is pushing their customers to notify ECan whenever things are too smelly; some of this will be a push for enforcement of existing code while some of it would be to build pressure for reducing the permissible amount of emission.
"It's at a difficult stage at the moment," Elsmore says."Gelita certainly comprehend the problem and are taking significant steps."But Gelita is working at a different speed to Cassels and others in Woolston, Elsmore says.But if Cassels aims to have his Tannery complex open in six months, which is his ambition, will the smell have been minimised by then?"Most likely," Elsmore says. "We're pushing them all the time."That said, Woolston has long been an industrial area and is where such businesses have traditionally been. Besides Gelita, there is Independent Fisheries, a tannery and, until recently, rubber curing."If it was smelling, it was in that area," Elsmore says. "Alasdair's right in that things needed to improve."
John Walley has a point where changed neighbouring uses lead to lobbying for changed rules in cases where it would be really simple for the aggrieved neighbours to buy abatement if abatement could efficiently be provided. But where they're instead lobbying for the enforcement of existing standards, and where you can make a pretty reasonable case that any de facto easement existed only because of strong coordination problems among the residential neighbours, perhaps Gelita should be the ones purchasing abatement from Cassels.
* If you're from Winnipeg, think about the Saint Boniface yards from two decades ago.