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Environmental groups celebrate, but concerns remain

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Gerry Brownlee
Gerry Brownlee

By Chris Ormond and Maggie Tait 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.

Mining representatives have accepted the decision and welcomed Government support of mining in other areas.

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.

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.

The New Zealand Minerals Industry Association (MIA) chief executive Doug Gordan said it supported and "wholeheartedly applauds" the Governments announcement.

"We are very happy... we respect the fact that for whatever reasons now is not the time, New Zealand is not ready to uplift its considerable mineral endowments under the schedule four land and that's fine," he told NZPA.

"There's huge gains to be made from developing the potentials that sit outside schedule four."

Newmont Mining's Kelvyn Eglinton said the company was unsurprised by the decision, given the concerns.

He said the company's position was to have underground mining only in low conservation areas. However, the law did allow mining underground on schedule four land as long as all the facilities like shafts were on adjacent private land.

"With no changes to the current law you are allowed to mine underground under the schedule four lands and we need to get that myth exposed."

Mr Eglinton said the process had been an opportunity to highlight modern mining processes; "there has been a silver lining for us, we've been able to profile the realities of modern mining".

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

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright had concerns with mining on conservation land outside of schedule four and would release a report on the issue soon.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said 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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