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Is a centre pivot a building?

Bridget Irving

June 2014 . . . According to the Environment Court…No, a Centre Pivot is not a building, but a vehicle. In its decision released on Friday, the Environment Court found that “large pivot irrigators such as Centre Pivots and Linear irrigation systems are not “buildings” within the definition on p3-2 of the Mackenzie District Plan for the purposes of the policies and rules of the Plan because they are “vehicles” under exception (e) in that definition”.

The Court’s decision was in response to an application for a declaration by the Mackenzie District Council to determine whether pivot irrigators were buildings. The application followed an earlier decision by the Court where it had commented that a pivot irrigator was a building because they are temporary or permanent, movable or immovable structures. This obiter comment made by the Court concerned the Council who had not intended pivot irrigators to be covered by the District Plan rules relating to buildings.[1]

The outcome of the decision will no doubt be a considerable relief to many in the Mackenzie farming community. The decision is also of interest to people outside Mackenzie District because the issue of how to control centre pivots is not unique. The most significant example is Queenstown Lakes District Council, where pivots have been treated as buildings requiring resource consent in the Rural General Zone. The obvious question then, is will this decision be of some assistance to other District Councils in Otago? 

The short answer…that depends. The decision turned very much on the specific definitions within the Mackenzie District Plan, in particular the exclusion of vehicle from the definition of building. As a result the decision is only of relevance in other districts where the same exclusion applies. Interestingly, many of the District Plans within Otago reference the definition of ‘Building’ in the Building Act 1991 (including Central Otago, Queenstown Lakes and Waitaki). That definition excludes vehicles. In our opinion this decision will be determinative in those Districts.

In other Districts, such as Dunedin City, the decision will be less influential.

Either way, the question of how farming infrastructure is dealt with under District Plans will continue to be topical. Particularly as many Council’s undertake their District Plan reviews and there are increasing concerns being raised by environmental groups and landscape enthusiasts about the impact of Centre Pivots and the land use intensification associated with them. While the point is settled for now, it may not remain that way for long.

 If you would like to read the Court’s Decision you can download by clicking here.

[1]An obiter comment is an observation made by the Court that is not necessary to the determination of the case before it.  To that extent they are non-binding.