FENCED AND GUARDED: The one-time dairy farm at Manawahe is secured and under guard as an application for an intensive farming and manufacturing project is in the works. Photo Mark Rieder D7629-02

CONSENT for a proposed intensive farming and manufacturing project in Manawahe is on hold while Whakatane District Council awaits more information on the project.

A 70-page application assessment submitted to the council by applicant Gusto Enterprises Limited is vague about what will be grown at the facility, with speculation within the community that it may be medicinal marijuana or hemp.

The proposal involves the construction of several large greenhouses and various smaller buildings to be used for the “processing and manufacturing of pharmaceutical products derived from plants grown within the greenhouses.”

Hilary Quemby, listed as a director of Gusto Enterprises Limited since 2005, is also listed as director of Indomira New Zealand Limited and Med Green Pharmaceutical Limited. Both companies are medical cannabis producers and marketers.

Neither Ms Quemby nor Med Green Pharmaceutical Ltd director and majority shareholder Rob Lewis, listed as the authorised signatory for the landowner, were available for comment as at press time.

The property is a former dairy farm of 42 hectares, purchased in April 2018 for $2 million – almost $700,000 above is 2016 rateable valuable.

When approached by the Beacon, security personnel at the site said they could not confirm whether or not it was proposed for a medical cannabis operation.

Another unidentified individual at the site volunteered information, saying the facility had something to do with a scaffolding company, while a resident further along the road heard it could be hemp.

Details included in the consent application indicate a well-secured and extensive layout.

“The farmhouse will be utilised as a site security office,” it said. “The growing operation will take place in an area near the centre of the site, which is well separated from neighbouring properties.”

It involves “growing plants in pots within three large steel-framed greenhouses with clear plastic walls and roof”.

The project proposes having two 100 metre by 50m and one 75m by 35m greenhouses and a 20m by 35m nursery at the farm’s central growing area and a factory and administration area near the property’s entrance.

Thirty-two full-time and 15 part-time employees would be required to operate the facility during normal business hours.

The proposal has been discussed with neighbouring property owners but there has been no formal consultation and no written approvals sought on the basis that the proposed activities will not generate adverse effects beyond the property boundary.

The applicants are of the view that the application does not need to be publicly notified.

Council public affairs manager Ross Boreham said council planning staff had requested further information from the applicant and, at this stage, no decision had been made with the regard to notification or non-notification of the application.

A separate resource consent for earthworks has been lodged with the Bay of Plenty Regional Council.