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No ‘Defendable Basis’ For Proposed West Coast Mining Zones

Large areas of West Coast land have been tagged in its proposed new district plan for mining despite not holding current mining licences or permits.

The former Oceana Gold mine site near Reefton prior to its closure in 2016. The Victoria State Forest Park site is now subject to extensive replanting and an environmental cleanup under the terms of the access agreement with the Department of Conservation. Photo/Supplied

A further hearing for the proposed combined district's Te Tai o Poutini Plan will begin tomorrow in Westport where the proposed planning criteria for the mineral rich region will be examined.

TTPP consultant planner David Badham, in his opening Resource Management Act report to the hearing panel, has flagged an issue with the "disconnect" between the mining zones proposed in the plan as opposed to what is currently permitted for mining purposes in the identified areas.

He specifically flags the Buller Coal Field Zone(BCZ) and the Minerals Extraction Zone (MINZ).

"My overall observation is that there appears to be a significant disconnect between the notified spatial extent of the MINZ and the BCZ, and the proposed criteria used to identify the zone," Mr Badham says.

"Specifically, there appears to be large areas of land that have been included … with no evidence or link to current (mining licence) authorisations.

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"As such, there appear to be a number of areas proposed and notified as MINZ and BCZ that do not currently have a defendable basis to be included."

He also touches on a key submitter concern from the region's largest coal miner, Bathurst, on the legal impact of the proposed plan's rules on the 'existing use rights' of miners already operating.

The proposed TTPP will also allow mining in other rural and 'open space' zones across the region outside the MINZ and BCZ.

Mr Badham also says concerns have been raised about the proposed "lawfully established" definition for mining.

This would apply to existing coal mining and ancillary coal mining licences issued under the Coal Mines Act of 1979.

Mr Badham says he understood the definition will need to be more specifically addressed by the hearing panel but in his opinion, existing use definitions within the TTPP do raise "legal issues".

"This primarily relates to the status of existing (mining) licences, and whether or not the rights provided under those licences extend beyond their expiry."

He makes two key recommendations:

  • Mine and minerals zoning criteria objectives and policies in the proposed plan should be "a key consideration" for the hearing panel because the wording and approach to these policies will impact the future approach to mine rezoning requests.
  • The proposed indigenous biodiversity policies applying to the minerals and mining chapter be deleted.

Mr Badham says while changes to the National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity (NPS-IB) have been signalled by the current Government, "they have not yet been made".

"As such, I understand that the wording of the NPS-IB must be considered as it is currently worded, not as it may be amended by central government, possibly in the near future."

He is also proposes amendments to: 

  • permitted activity rules for mineral prospecting and exploration,
  • mineral extraction and processing,
  • activities ancillary to lawfully established mineral extraction and processing.

DISCLAIMER: Te Runanga o Makaawhio chairman Paul Madgwick, who is a member of the Te Tai o Poutini Plan Committee, is also the editor of the Greymouth Star. He took no part in commissioning, writing or editing this story.

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