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Arsenic solution too slow – Mark

Council lacked ‘human consideration’, says ex-mayor Ron Mark, the deputy leader of NZ First. PHOTO/FILE


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Carterton District Council could have done more – and more quickly – to help a family who discovered their property was saturated with arsenic, says ex-Carterton mayor Ron Mark.

Mr Mark, a NZ First MP, says he was left “gobsmacked” by the level of arsenic contamination found on Rupert and Heidi Holbrook’s lifestyle property on Andersons Line in Clareville.

He also maintains the council did not do enough to test the property before it granted resource consent for the subdivision, and once the problem was discovered did not give the Holbrooks “the human consideration” they deserved.

“The stress that was placed on Heidi and Rupert and their family was huge, absolutely huge,” Mr Mark said.

“When people are stressed to that extent you know they are at their wits’ end.”

He said the couple had done so much for the community and that Mrs Holbrook had brought “talent and vitality” into Carterton.

“It becomes exceedingly frustrating when you see such a generous person not being given the benefit of the doubt, and not being given the level of human consideration that you believe they should have been given.”

The Holbrooks spotted the property in 2013, and while they had been told to remediate the sheep dip by the real estate agent, they had no idea how bad the concentration of arsenic would be in the surrounding paddocks.

In one area it was 31 times the nationally recommended health standard.

The Times-Age broke the story earlier this week, after a request for information from Carterton District Council, who approved the subdivision of the land on March 19, 2013.

Carterton District Council chief executive Jane Davis has maintained that the council did the right thing, saying there were not aware of the sheep dip when they granted the subdivision consent.

“Even if we had have known, our process followed the Resource Management Act requirements,” she told the Times-Age this week.

She would not comment on a settlement agreement reached with the Holbrooks, saying it was confidential.

Mr Mark, who stepped down from the mayoralty in September 2014, said he would always be disappointed that council had not “looked deeply enough” into the issue of the sheep dip, never asked how widespread the contamination was, and never sought soil testing as a part of that consent process before they allowed the subdivision to go ahead.

He said he suggested a community based solution because the alternative – going to court – “would have killed” the Holbrooks.

He also credited the Smith family, who agreed to have the boundaries of the section readjusted, for being a huge part of the solution.

“If they hadn’t have been so generous, so concerned themselves and prepared to make a huge concession, I shudder to think where we would be today.”

Mr Mark said if he recalled correctly it would have cost over a million dollars to get rid of the soil.

There would always be the question of why did it take so long for the family to get a solution, he said.

“Could the council have come to the party more? Yeah probably.”

He said the council had only finally accepted some responsibility and had moved to assist due to the guidance of current mayor John Booth, who put a “shoulder in” towards the end.

Mr Booth, Jill Greathead, Greg Lang and the Smith family had all contributed to the solution.

When looking at buying property Mr Mark said that if there was even so much as a “sniff” of a contamination problem people needed to insist on finding out more.

This case had “sent a loud and clear message to councils all over New Zealand” that it was not enough to just identify sheep dips, they had to be investigated and tested.


Greens list MP Catherine Delahunty says protecting people from contaminated sites was “unfinished business”.

Delahunty, who has represented the Green Party in parliament since 2008, said there were people all over the country stuck in the same position.

“It’s incredibly expensive to clean up contaminated land and it’s not fair on citizens.”

Green Party list MP Catherine Delahunty wants to see better government leadership when it comes to dealing with contaminated land. PHOTO/FILE
Green Party list MP Catherine Delahunty wants to see better government leadership when it comes to dealing with contaminated land. PHOTO/FILE

It was an issue that too often was “out of sight, out of mind” for people, she said.

“Contamination is often invisible, so humans are not very good with invisible things.”

People did not want to know because it affected property values, she said.

“That’s the real issue.

“We need to get over our desire to protect our financial interests and think about what really happens.”

She wanted to see better government leadership supporting councils and regional councils to have robust registers and clean-up programmes.

“How vigorously are the councils working to identify all the toxic sites in their region?”



  1. Since 1 January 2012 it has been a legal requirement for developers to assess and manage contamination at the time of subdivision. CDC was responsible for enforcing that. Since November 2006 there has been free, easy to find guidance for councils on how to identify and assess sheepdips. There are at least a dozen good contaminated land consultants in the greater Wellington region who could have done the work. Selling with information just isn’t acceptable. It’s not a matter of ‘could have done more’ or ‘better leadership’ – this is a gross failure by the developer, CDC or both.

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