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Environmental groups celebrate, but concerns remain

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Gerry Brownlee
Gerry Brownlee

By Chris Ormond of NZPA

Wellington, July 20 NZPA - Environmental groups are celebrating the Government's decision to abandon plans to open protected conservation land to mineral prospecting, but remain concerned about future mining on Crown land.

Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee and Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson today confirmed the National Party had ditched plans to remove conservation land in the Coromandel, Great Barrier Island and Paparoa National Park from protected schedule four status so it could be prospected for minerals.

It had proposed opening up 7000 hectares of such land but the plans sparked a huge groundswell of opposition.

Mr Brownlee said of over 37,000 submissions on the issue, most said no land should be removed from schedule four. "We heard that message loud and clear," he said today.

Views are split over whether it was a case of the Government listening to the people or simply being forced into a back-down, but Forest and Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said the organisation was "relieved to see the Government finally recognising the real value of the core conservation estate".

It joined the likes of Greenpeace, the Green Party and others in crediting the decision to the tens of thousands of New Zealanders who protested and forwarded submissions against the proposals.

Environmental Defence Society chairman Gary Taylor also cited a "green awareness" by the Government as having played a part in the decision, and said a move to protect all national parks from future mining was a principled one which would put an end to such contentious issues coming up again.

Mr Hackwell said Forest and Bird wanted to see a law change ensuring an act of Parliament would be required in the future to remove schedule four land from protection.

He said concerns remained about the Government's plans to extend mining in other Crown areas.

Mr Brownlee said today New Zealanders had given the minerals sector a "clear mandate" to explore non-schedule four land, and where appropriate and within the constraints of the resource consent process, utilise its mineral resources "for everyone's benefit".

He said technical investigations would be undertaken in Northland, the West Coast and other parts of the South Island to get data about potential mineral deposits.

But Mr Hackwell said Forest and Bird rejected the statement that New Zealanders had given the thumbs up for exploration in non-schedule four land.

"The strength of opposition to the Government's plans makes it clear that New Zealanders are very concerned about the impacts of mining wherever it occurs and that they expect stronger constraints on the mining industry to significantly reduce the damage they do," he said.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright, who opposed schedule four mining in a submission, said she was pleased to see the Government had committed to ensuring extra land would be added to schedule four.

"However, there are other issues with mining on conservation land outside of schedule four and I will be releasing a report examining this situation in a couple of months," Dr Wright said.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei also expressed concerns about what the Government had in mind regarding future mining.

She said while there could be scope to mine in areas where there was no danger of environmental damage being caused, New Zealanders needed to keep a close eye on the Government's plans for mineral exploration on Crown land.

World Wildlife Fund NZ executive director Chris Howe said while the Government's U-turn was welcomed, it was disappointing that so much time and money was wasted for Mr Brownlee to "grasp what most New Zealanders understand as common sense -- that we should not prospect for minerals on land that has been protected from mineral extraction".

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