Crown eyes lucrative mineral potential of conservation estate

The Government denies it wants to "dig up" the conservation estate, despite planning to access billions of dollars worth of minerals locked up in Crown land.

Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee told the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy in Queenstown this week that he wanted greater access to valuable mineral deposits held in the conservation estate.

He said he had directed Crown Minerals to review areas with significant mineral potential that could be worth millions if they were removed from Department of Conservation (DOC) control.

Brownlee said that while Australia was often called "the Lucky Country" because of its mineral wealth, a recent report had estimated New Zealand's mineral potential to have a gross in-ground value of more than $140 billion.

However, 70 per cent of the minerals were in DOC-administered land, Brownlee said, and about 40 per cent of that was listed under schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act, which banned mining.

Some of the areas within schedule 4 were known to have zinc, lead, copper, nickel, tin, tungsten and other metals, he said. "The current inclusion of these highly prospective areas in schedule 4 has potentially denied significant opportunity for economic benefit at both a national and regional level."

Brownlee said DOC should develop better processes for managing mining applications on non-schedule 4 land, and more consultation with Crown Minerals on conservation land reclassification.

Labour said yesterday it was appalled by the proposals.

Conservation spokesman David Parker said National had said nothing about mining in DOC estates during last year's election campaign.

"Coal and lignite mines are enormous. Allowing increased mining in the DOC estate or allowing it at all in national parks is lunacy," Parker said.

The Government should hold extensive public consultation before allowing mining in such areas.

"Every New Zealander should have an opportunity to have their say on any changes that would allow increased mining."

The Green Party has vowed to fight the proposal, saying it will lead to the environmental destruction of pristine areas. MP Jeanette Fitzsimons said any changes would anger the public.

Brownlee last night did not rule out the possibility of removing some schedule 4 land from that protection.

"It is possible there are some pieces of land inside schedule 4 that do not have the high conservation values that should be applied to land in that schedule," he said. "Over the last few years quite a bit of land has been reclassified into schedule 4 and in future where there is to be land rescheduled we would like to know not only the conservation value but also the mineral potential in that land."

The stocktake would be complete by early next year.

"We think the mineral estate in New Zealand is capable of producing more and we think New Zealanders need to know there is that potential," Brownlee said. "We already know there's a lot of minerals inside schedule 4 land but that does not indicate a desire to start ripping them apart. What we're indicating in general is there're significant opportunities for the mineral industry to expand in New Zealand and we think that would be good for our economy.

"A lot of people have leapt to the extremes of their own paranoia on this one. The chances of us starting new mining operations in national parks are pretty slim."

Forest and Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said the Government was implying the conservation estate was of no value, when its single largest industry, tourism, was based on the conservation estate.

The Press