Holcim switching from production to imports


Holcim’s focus in New Zealand is switching from producing cement to importing it:

Holcim (New Zealand) Ltd will spend more than NZD 100M over the next three years constructing an import terminal and related infrastructure that will allow it to import and distribute bulk cement for supply to the New Zealand market. The terminal, which is expected to be operational in 2 – 3 years time, will be based on similar Holcim operations throughout the world. . .

Once operational, cement imported through the new terminal will replace local production at the company’s Westport cement plant. Holcim New Zealand has signaled for some years that the Westport plant was not sustainable long term. The decision also means that the proposal for a new cement plant at Weston, near Oamaru, is on hold for the foreseeable future but Holcim will continue to maintain ownership of their land assets.

“We recognise that this decision has an impact for our staff, customers and for the Westport and Weston communities. It’s one we’ve arrived at after extensively investigating a range of cement supply options and we will be working through the implications with those who will be impacted by the move,” Jeremy Smith said. “For the current economic environment, constructing an import terminal and importing cement is simply the most appropriate decision.”

This decision will be greeted with sadness in Westport and mixed feelings in North Otago.

A vocal group opposed the proposal to build a new cement plant near Weston and they will be delighted with the decision to put the plans on hold.

But the plant would have created 120 full time, permanent jobs directly and many people were welcoming that.

Holcim’s Weston plant decision postponed again


Holcim was set to build a new cement plant near Weston in North Otago in the 1980s.

Then the world went into recession and the plan was put on hold.

The company started planning again to build on the site again a few years ago and gained resource consent. But economic uncertainty around the world has led to another delay in the decision.

The plans have been dogged by controversy and strong opposition.

However, it has also had strong support.

The plant would provide around 120 full time permanent jobs which would bring economic and social benefits to the district while strict consent conditions would ensure the safeguarding of the environment.

The plant would replace Holcim’s plant at Westport where the loss of jobs and business for the port would be difficult for the town.

Even if the decision isn’t made to build the new plant next year, it is likely it will be built eventually as the Westport site is running low of raw materials while there are plentiful supplies of lime and coal near the Weston site.

Tourists good, cement bad?


Holcim began investigating building a cement plant in North Otago’s Waiareka Valley nearly 30 years ago but pulled back after the 1987 share market crash.

The company returned for further investigations and plans a few years ago. This time it got consent and the New Zealand  division put a proposal to the international board in Switzerland, but still we wait for a decision:

Oamaru leaders have been expecting a final decision this week at Holcim’s international board meeting in Switzerland.

Holcim New Zealand says the meeting did review the project, but did not make any final decisions.

The $400 million plant would employ about 120 people. That would make a significant economic and social contribution to North Otago and strict conditions on the building and operation would safeguard the environment.

In spite of that the plans have engendered vigorous opposition and among the arguments against the development were that it would threaten tourism.

We passed a cement plant while driving through a national park near Banff in the Rocky Mountains last month . We didn’t know it was there until we were almost upon it and it didn’t appear to be having a negative impact on tourism.

Those opposing the plant also argued that tourism would be better for the economy and environment than a cement plant.

I wonder how many tourists it would take to generate 120 fulltime jobs and what impact transporting, accommodating and feeding them would have on the environment?

Holcim wins Environment Court decision


A new cement plant near Weston in North Otago has come a step closer with the Environment Court dismissing appeals against the consent granted for the plant by the Waitaki District Council.

 The court ruling is a hurdle jumped but it’s not the end of the race. Holcim New Zealand now needs to prepare a case for its parent company which will make the decision on whether or not to build the plant.

The company was keen to build a plant on the same site in the mid 1980s but decided not to when the recession led to a downturn in building. The current recession and its impact on the need for concrete will be among the factors the company considers when it makes its decision.

I have been one of the supporters. The plant would have economic and social benefits for the district and I was reassured that the resource consent process would safeguard the environment.

One of the factors which reassured me was the number of people from Westport who opposed the consent because they wanted the company to stay there.

I couldn’t believe that a company which obviously plays such an important and positive role in the economic and social life on the West Coast would suddenly turn in to a bad corporate citizen if it moved east. Even given the difference in climate, particularly wind direction and patterns, I didn’t believe that if an old  plant had operated for decades without adverse impact on the health and wellbeing of people, stock; air, soil and water  there, then a new one, built with up to the minute technology;  would cause problems here.

Otago manufacturering shrinking most


Summit Woolspinners, one of Oamaru’s largest employers, is moving to a nine day fortnight in an effort to safeguard jobs in the face of declining orders for carpet yarn.

The March manufacturing index shows they’re not the only Otago manufacturer facing tough times.

Otago-Southland manufacturers are suffering the worst of any in the country by a wide margin, according to the latest BNZ-Business New Zealand performance of manufacturing index (PMI).

The Otago-Southland index slipped to 37.6 points in March – its lowest recorded reading.

A reading above 50 shows manufacturing activity is expanding and below 50 shows a contraction.

In March last year, the regional index was 46.3.

Nationwide, the index indicated some ongoing problems in the country’s manufacturing sector.

The seasonally adjusted national PMI increased 1.8 points in March from February to 40.7, but it is still the third lowest since the survey began.

Meanwhile, the consent process grinds on  for Holicm NZ which has applied to build a $400 million cement plant near Weston.

If it goes ahead the plant would provide about 120 fulltime jobs.

Holcim keen to build in Nth Otago


Holcim NZ is keen to build a cement plant near Weston in North Otago if the Environment Court upholds the resource consents it was granted late last year.

Holcim had several other options for production in New Zealand but narrowed that down to continuing on its Westport site or building a new plant near Weston.

 If the Environment Court upheld resource consents then Holcim (New Zealand) Ltd chief executive Jeremy Smith would most likely recommend the $300 million plant near Weston be built.

Mr Smith told the Environment Court Holcim hearing yesterday he would recommend to Holcim’s New Zealand board of directors that the plant and its quarries proceed.

Holcim’s predecessor had planned to build a plant on the site more than 20 years ago but chaged its mind when construction and demand for cement declined in the economic downturn not unlike those forecast now but Holcim’s cheif executive Jeremy Smith said:

Building the Weston plant, with a minimum 50-year life and up to 100 years, given the limestone reserves, would be “a long-term decision”.

“What the economy will do, we have to face that.

“But there is no way Holcim will make that decision based on hypothetics today,” Mr Smith said.

Opinions in North Otago are divided on the benefits of the plant.

I think that providing the company meets conditions imposed on its consent any negatives impacts will be minor and more than cancelled out by the creation of about 120 fulltime permanent jobs and the positive economic and social affects that will have on the district.

Consent Appeal Off Track


While debate rages over KiwiRail nationwide, North Otago has a local argument over whether a disused line should be re-opened to allow trains to run at all.

A branch line used to run from the limeworks on the outskirts of Weston to Oamaru. It was closed in 1997 and the lines were lifted a couple of years later but its owner, then NZ Railways, retained ownership in case it was needed for a cement plant.

However, when the Waitaki district plan was reviewed in 1993 the designation wasn’t properly recorded. OnTrack now needs it redesignated because it’s the best means of transport for Holcim NZ  if its plans for a new cement plant in the Waiareka Valley come to fruition.

The new plant would be a $400m investment for Holcim but its plans have not been greeted with universal enthusiasm and the Waiareka Valley Preservation Society  was set up to oppose the proposal.

Resource consent was granted in February but both Holcim and the WVPS have lodged appeals – the former over some of the conditions, that latter over the approval.

OnTrack’s application to redesignate the line came in the middle of all this and the WVPS submitted against it. Independent commissioner Allan Cubitt recommended that approval be given and because OnTrack is a requiring authority under the Resource Management Act it makes the final decision. Not surprisingly it accepted the commissioner’s recommendation but now the WVPS, which submitted against the application, is appealing that consent too. Their appeal will be considered with the others on Holcim’s proposal in the Environment Court.

We farm next to the site for Holcim’s plant and another of our properties neighbours the company’s sand pit, which will be used if the cement works go ahead. 

I submitted in support of Holcim’s proposal at the resource consent hearings. I’ll cover the details in a future blog, but the short argument is that there would be substantial economic and social benefits for the district if the cement works go ahead; and RMA conditions will safeguard the environment.

As for the railway line, I crossed it several times a week when it was open before and can’t recall any problems then. People who have built beside the rail corridor since the track closed will have concerns; but once they get used to them they’ll hardly notice a few trains a day – and they will not run at night.

I think the WVPS objections have more to do with the society’s opposition to Holcim than the reopening of the railway line. And that’s one of the frustrations with the RMA – it allows people objecting to one thing to object to another in the hope of stopping the first.

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