Compost plant not to blame for ‘vile stench’ that blankets suburb, council says

Compost plant not to blame for ‘vile stench’ that blankets suburb, council says

David Walker/Stuff

Christchurch City Council’s Living Earth composting facility has again broken the ECan odor rules. (file photo)

Bad smells continue to plague a Christchurch suburb as the city council is slammed with another notice for violating odor codes at its composting facility.

But Christchurch City Council says the smells that had people wrinkling their noses during the Christmas holidays originated naturally from the Ihutai Avon Heathcote Estuary and did not originate from the neighboring Bromley organics processing plant.

Residents and local politicians question this, saying they are convinced the odors are coming from the Living Earth facility.

Environment Canterbury (ECan) issued the plant with a notice of non-compliance after finding it “offensive and objectionable” on 10 January.

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It is the fifth time in the past 12 months that the regional council has issued notices of odor nuisance from the facility.

Judith Earl-Goulet, director-general of ECan regulatory services, said officials were on site for a routine visit when they carried out an assessment under Environment Department guidelines and uncovered the breach.

At the same time, they also received a complaint from a local resident.

Earl-Goulet said it was not appropriate to comment on future action against the council over the breaches as an investigation into the breach of the rules was already underway and could lead to enforcement action.

“Any comment now could jeopardize this investigation and a fair trial if the matter goes to court.”

Compost processing through on-site hire has been discontinued, as has storage of processed material.

Christchurch City Council

Compost processing through on-site hire has been discontinued, as has storage of processed material.

Jane Davis, the council’s director-general for infrastructure and regulatory services, said the estuary can give off odors in certain environmental conditions, and the council believed this was at the root of the foul odor people in the area have been experiencing in recent weeks.

However, she said ECan’s most recent non-compliance notification on January 10 was specific to odors and the council was investigating what activities were taking place at the facility at the time.

Residents have complained about the stench from the facility for years. They believe that it should never have been built so close to houses.

The council voted to explore potential new sites for the plant in September 2021 and decided last year to let it continue operating at its existing site in the meantime, despite requests from local residents to close it immediately. It could be six years before an alternative is operational.

The City Council has yet to make a decision on whether to move. A report on this subject is expected to be submitted to the Council next month.

Council says the bad smells are coming from the Avon-Heathcote estuary, not the composting facility.


Council says the bad smells are coming from the Avon-Heathcote estuary, not the composting facility.

However, residents and local politicians fear the council will reverse its decision to move the plant, particularly given the tone of a memo sent by council officials to council members.

The memo said independent environmental experts Pattle Delamore Partners have not found any offensive or objectionable compost odors in the Bromley area since monitoring began last January.

The experts were brought on board to support the council’s position that it believes ECan has “no reliable evidence of a resource consent breach” for the plant, the memo said.

The results identified 176 different odor combinations.

Councilman Yani Johanson, who has repeatedly raised the issue with the council, said if he believes the smell came from the estuary, he needs to show the public the evidence.

“It is totally unacceptable that people in this area should smell foul smells.”

Banks Peninsula MP Tracey McLellan said she was concerned council staff were not getting a realistic picture of the situation.

She feared the council would reverse an earlier decision to move the facility.

“Most of the people who are there can distinguish the different smells. People know exactly when it is the smell of plants. I think the council has to accept that the facility is the problem.”


Bromley, to the east of Christchurch, may be New Zealand’s stinkiest suburb, but after years of complaints, authorities are still struggling to get rid of the putrid pong. (First release January 2020)

Bruce King, who has lived off and on in Bromley since the 1960s, said he knew what the compost and estuary smelled like, and recent pongs don’t come out of the estuary.

He was also skeptical of the council’s intentions and did not believe they intended to move the plant.

Compost from the facility is distributed to nearby paddocks around the treatment plant to support the planting of thousands of native plants.

The council said that given the controls and information in place about the low intensity of the smell of compost in the paddocks, it didn’t think that could be the source.

There has been a significant change in the way compost is treated and managed at the facility over the past 12 months.

Compost processing through on-site rentals has been discontinued, as has storage of processed compost. Compost is now also outsourced the same day it comes out of the treatment tunnels.

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