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Fonterra's controversial milk processing plant planned near Darfield has been given the go-ahead.
Resource consents for the dairy giant's proposed $150 million factory have been granted by an independent panel, just over a month since the hearing finished and five months after consents were lodged.
The decision reveals Fonterra bought the neighbouring boutique bed and breakfast Oaks Historic Homestead, owned by the factory's fiercest opponent, Madeleine de Jong, seemingly paving the way for the development.
Fonterra, which already runs nine dairy processing plants in the South Island, expects construction of its new factory to start by the middle of next year – if it is not appealed.
Fonterra's New Zealand operations director Brent Taylor said the company was "reasonably confident" of gaining consent and the company hoped to start operating by August 2012.
Fonterra had been negotiating with de Jong for several months.
Buying her land was an agreement between a "willing buyer and a willing seller", he said.
De Jong said the Selwyn district plan's permissiveness had forced her out.
"At least Fonterra has done the decent thing and come up with a ... settlement for me and I can move on."
In the decision, commissioners acknowledged a "considerable" number of people, mainly from the Darfield area, opposed the development.
"We consider that their fears are overstated and the plant will not affect them as much as they believe it will," the decision said.
Opponent Liz Weir, of Coalgate, was disappointed but not surprised by the decision. "Fonterra's a big company which is making the country money – no-one's going to step in their way."
An appeal was "highly unlikely" because of the expense, she said.
Another opponent, Reuben Hunt, of Coalgate, said it was a sad day for Darfield and the surrounding area.
Selwyn District Mayor Kelvin Coe said considering the economic climate the granting of consents was good news. "It's good to see commercial growth on the western side of Selwyn District and I'm sure it will lead to residential growth."
The factory, sitting on a 680-hectare site 3.5 kilometres from Darfield, will be capable of producing up to 16 tonnes of milk powder per hour.
The building will be up to 52 metres high, with a 60m-high smokestack.
The commissioners admitted the major industrial complex would adversely affect rural character and amenity, while tanker trips through Darfield would significantly increase.
Sulphur dioxide discharges from the 30 megawatt, probably coal-fired boiler "would be minor" and effects on Darfield's ambient air quality "are acceptable", they said.
Because of potential effects on groundwater nitrate concentrations from wastewater produced by the factory, extra conditions had been added as a "backstop".
However, the decision said the new factory would not encourage dairy conversions in the Darfield area and the buildings, milk tankers and, potentially, railway wagons would be almost completely screened from the site's boundaries "within a few years".
Although economic benefits were difficult to quantify, they added up to a "formidable positive factor", the commissioners said.