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Logging Legal Challenge Gets Ratepayer Mandate

Problems will not go away for the coalition Government over its West Coast indigenous forest policy, with 1518 ratepayers voting to support the Westland District Council's resolution for a challenge over the axing of the harvesting of beech timber. John Howard reports.

Westland ratepayers have given their Council a clear mandate to fight the Government's decision to axe Timberlands West Coast's proposed beech scheme.

A questionnaire produced an emphatic 1518 return in just 10 days agreeing that Council should challenge the Government's decision. 566 respondents also agreed to contribute their own money to a separate fund should it be necessary.

Westland Mayor John Drylie said the response is a triumph for consultation and an indication of the district's resentment towards the beech harvest decision.

"There is a clear and overwhelming indication that those who responded are strongly against the Labour and Alliance announcements concerning indigenous forestry on the West Coast," Mr Drylie said.

Council intends writing to Prime Minister Helen Clark reminding her that she is also the Prime Minister of the West Coast.

"We will be expressing extreme disappointment that neither she nor her Ministers have consulted with the people of the West Coast or the various councils, concerning the announced policy of stopping sustainable harvest of indigenous timber on Crown land," Mr Drylie said.

The letter will also request immediate consultation to discuss the policy's implications on the economic and social wellbeing of the West Coast.

Council also agreed to establish a small informal group to consider the implications of the forestry policy announcements.

Mr Drylie said this group would be advisory and will assist in exploring options available.

Council has already received legal advice which it will continue to explore, he added.

Mr Drylie said the council was not removing itself from the unity of the region on the issue and would continue seeking views and collaboration of the other councils.

Other mayors in the region, Pat O'Dea (Buller) and Kevin Brown (Greymouth) are not surprised by the overwhelming support from the people of Westland.

Mr Brown said the Grey District Council had not planned to survey its ratepayers but given the response Hokitika enjoyed it might be advisable.

"I believe it was not a costly exercise and therefore we may do the same thing to find out exactly how many people in our District are in favour of challenging the decision," he said.

Mr Brown said the possibility of sending out a questionnaire will be discussed at tonight's Grey District Council meeting.

Buller mayor, Pat O'Dea said he expects the response would be the same right throughout the West Coast and Buller.

"The feedback that I, and other councillors here are getting, leads me to believe the statistics would be the same if we put the issue to a vote," he said.

"I think that proves conclusively that Labour's claims that people voted for a forestry close-up is untrue; most people do not vote on one issue."

Mr O'Dea said people on the Coast were let down by Labour's policies.

"In our case the one mill that was going to start in Westport would have cost around $10 million and would have provided around 60 jobs or close to $2 million in wages coming into Westport," Mr O'Dea said.

"I very seldom hear anyone saying that what has been done is fair and reasonable."

Mr O'Dea said Government's proposal for an economic development package was not compensation and would be negotiated along the same lines as development packages available to other regions.

Barry Nicolle, chairman of Coast Action Network, was also enthusiastic about the result of Westland's vote.

"This will indeed send a loud and clear message to Government that Westland people will not accept their decision to interfere with our economic sustainability and self determination," he said.

"We hope Westland's action will be supported by other West Coast councils as the mandate is clearly against Government interference," Mr Nicolle said

"This move sets the standard for not only West Coast councils but others throughout New Zealand who have to battle the same bureaucratic bungling we on the West Coast have had to endure from heavy-handed ministers," he said.

A Labour Government, the Royal Forest and Bird Society, Native Forest Action Council and West Coast Council's signed the West Coast Accord in 1986 which allowed the sustainable harvest of indigenous timber in perpetuity in return for the transfer of around 140,000 hectares of indigenous forests into National Park's and reserves.

In 1995 the High Court ruled the Accord was a settlement of a dispute and differences between the signatories.

Both the High Court and Court of Appeal subsequently ruled the Accord was a legally binding contract.

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