A review of mining in national parks has been broadened, amid signs the Government is backing away from the proposal.
Prime Minister John Key said yesterday that the review of so-called schedule 4 land, held within the conservation estate, had been widened about three weeks ago.
Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee announced last year that he was investigating whether areas within schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act could be removed, in order for mining to take place. Mining is banned within schedule 4, which contains the highest-value third of the total land in the conservation estate, including national parks. Mr Brownlee has said it could contain minerals worth $140 billion.
Forest & Bird claims the Government is planning to allow mining in 7000 hectares of conservation land in the West Coast's Paparoa National Park, Great Barrier Island and the Coromandel Peninsula.
The environmental watchdog says it has specific information that the plans include 700ha on Te Ahumata plateau on Great Barrier Island, a small parcel of Otahu Ecological Area and Parakawai Geological Reserve near Whangamata on the Coromandel, about 2500ha near Thames and 3000ha in Eastern Paparoa National Park, near Inangahua on the West Coast.
Mr Key would not say if the report was right or not, but referred to the information as a "leak". There had been "continued hysteria" about mining that was unjustified.
"I wouldn't jump to any conclusions. The issue is still before the Government for consideration. When we do decide what we're doing we'll go out and have a discussion with people about it."
Mr Key said while mining was an important area where New Zealand could increase its revenue, the Government was "very conscious and cognisant" of environmental issues.
"I've made it clear many times I want to balance two things – the economic benefits we stand to gain from increased mining activity and the obvious environmental responsibilities we have."
Mr Key said Mr Brownlee's review of schedule 4 land had been broadened to include other, less high-value land within the estate – where mining was already allowed.
There are currently 82 concessions for mining on the DOC estate outside schedule 4. "We're not ruling out schedule 4 land, we're just saying that the discussion document is likely to be a broader discussion than just schedule 4 land. There are other areas where greater exploration or mining or mineral activity may actually be beneficial to New Zealand, so it's putting the thing in the context of a wider debate."
While Mr Brownlee had been right to bring proposals to the Cabinet, "some areas would never be acceptable to Cabinet", Mr Key said.
A public discussion document in the Government's plans was originally due out in February but has been further delayed. It was still "some weeks" away.
Labour's conservation spokesman David Parker said the report should be released immediately so the public could see what the Government was planning. "Why is the Government further delaying release of where it wants to open up mining? Perhaps the main agenda here is to make it easier to mine in the Coromandel and in other parts of the conservation estate outside of national parks."
Green Party co-leader Meteria Turei said the Government appeared to be getting cold feet about the proposal to mine national park land, because of public opposition.
But Mr Key said polling indicated more than 50 per cent of people were in favour of the idea.
- The Dominion Post
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