Property prices, poison and public rights

It looks like a bloody no-brainer to Alf: the public is entitled to know if a chunk of property might have been contaminated by chemicals. Providing them with this information is more important than any threat to property prices.

Perhaps brains are in short supply on the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council.

But it seems the buggers resisted revealing the locations of thousands of potentially contaminated sites.

Now the ombudsman has ruled that public safety is more important than the possible effects on property prices.

And according to a triumphant Dominion-Post, Environment Minister Nick Smith has made it clear he expects other councils to follow suit, allowing anyone to see if sites are contaminated with hazardous substances.

The landmark decision by the ombudsman stems from a complaint lodged by The Dominion Post over the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s refusal to make public the locations of 3099 potentially contaminated sites on its Hazardous Activities and Industries List.

The council refused to release the information because it wanted to protect landowners from potential financial losses.

Dr Smith said it was “inevitable” that the other 13 regional councils would follow suit.

“I have advised the Hawke’s Bay and other regional councils that the long-term withholding of this information was not going to fly under the framework of the Official Information Act.”

Land is deemed contaminated when it contains hazardous substances at levels likely to pose an immediate or long-term risk to human health or the environment.

Orchards, market gardens, sheep dips, wood treatment sites and old petrol stations are high on the list of properties likely to be contaminated.

Some district or city councils noted “potential contamination” on Lim reports but others did not.

Dr Smith said it was important the councils released the information in a form that “doesn’t cause undue public distress”.

“The vast bulk of sites are highly unlikely to have any risk associated with them,” he said.

“The misreporting of the potential contamination of a site can affect the value of a property by tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. That is why getting the context of this information is important.”

Alf notes that the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council will discuss the decision next Friday. Secretly, behind closed doors.

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