Sealing of Pike River mine will be stopped, says Bill English
Pike River families have been told the sealing of the mine will be stopped following a meeting with Prime Minister Bill English, with Solid Energy asked to look into new technology which could allow unmanned entry.
Family members of the Pike River miners met English for the first time in an attempt to stop the sealing of the mine, and emerged afterwards with cautious optimism about the options on the table.
Some of the victims' family members have been campaigning against closing off the West Coast mine, which Solid Energy plans to seal with concrete.
They argue an independent report shows it is safe to re-enter the mine's entrance tunnel, or "drift", with former chief inspector of mines Tony Forster joining them to provide technical advice.
Bernie Monk, spokesman for some of the Pike River families, said the meeting was "very positive".
"We've got another step forward for us...I think they got a lot of understanding about the ins and outs, because it's not easy for them to understand what we've been through over the last six years."
Monk said English's promise to stop the sealing of the mine would allow the group to end its picket at Pike River, which had been going on 24 hours a day for 13 weeks.
However, the families would keep pressure on the Government to ensure it kept its promises.
"We're not going to go back to Greymouth and sit on our hands and wait for things to happen - we're going to make things happen."
Pike River widow Anna Osborne said the decision to stop the sealing would give families some relief, but she still had concerns about the Government's commitment to exploring all options for re-entry.
"From what I got today, it was baby steps, he's not fully committed to giving the families any real reassurance."
Forster said English had stated the Government's continued opposition to any humans re-entering the drift, but shared a a "clear expectation" that non-manned technology, such as aerial drones, should be considered as an option.
PM: MINE DECISION ABOUT SAFETY, NOT POLITICS
English said a decision to re-enter the mine was "not about politics, it is about safety".
"We lost 29 lives in that mine and I will not risk losing any more."
The families' proposal for re-entering Pike River did not include a detailed plan, "and therefore does not make the case for a safe re-entry", he said.
However, he would ask Solid Energy to stop work on the mine's permanent seal and explore options for unmanned entry, after the Government was approached in recent weeks by experts with new proposals.
"The families' technical advisor agreed that there has been significant advancements in technology since the tragedy occurred six years ago.
"We will ask Solid Energy to explore those options. We will also keep the families informed and allow their technical input into the search for options for unmanned entry."
The Government would give Solid Energy money to look into the unmanned options, English said.
MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO ENTER - LABOUR
Labour leader Andrew Little said stopping the sealing of the mine was "the right thing at this stage", but questioned why the Government continued to rule out a physical re-entry.
"We've got to keep the pressure up...because it must still be possible to get in there and see what remains are in there."
There had been a number of reports from independent experts which showed it was possible to safely re-enter the mine, Little said.
"Every effort has got to be made to fulfil the promise that was made to the families that everything would be done to get entry and see what is there and recover what is there."