Judge raises concerns in coalmine appeal

An Environment Court judge has raised concerns over Bathurst Resources chairman's criticisms of court processes at its annual general meeting in Sydney last week.

Today, a four-week appeal resumed in Greymouth over resource consents granted to the Australian coalmining company's New Zealand subsidiary Buller Coal Ltd for a large opencast mine on conservation land near Westport.

Last week, Bathurst chairman Craig Munro thanked shareholders at its AGM for their patience over ''never-ending appeals'' about its Escarpment Mine Project on Denniston Plateau.

''We appreciate your continued support and patience in a year that has seen us having to focus on what seems like the never-ending appeals process that allows minority groups to stifle development in New Zealand,'' Munro said in his speech.

''This is obviously very time consuming, costly and non productive from both the company's and the majority of New Zealanders' point of view but under current legislation necessary.''

Today, Environment Court judge Laurie Newhook said Munro's comments highlighted in media reports last week ''provided some discomfort for members of the court''.

Munro had ''allowed himself to make some pretty robust comments'' about court processes, he said.

''It seems to us implied criticism of this court and other courts perhaps about the process.''

Newhook said the court tried to move proceedings in an expeditious fashion but ultimately ''the appeal system is the appeal system'' and that was determined by Parliament.

Royal Forest & Bird Society and West Coast Environment Network appealed Buller Coal's resource consents for the 190ha mine, which were approved in August last year.

An Environment Court declaration that climate change should not be taken into account when assessing the resource consent application had been appealed twice, which was upheld by the High Court and was headed for the Court of Appeal.

Buller Coal claimed the Escarpment mine would employ 225 people and contribute $1 billion to the economy over its six-year life, while conservationists disputed that and said that did not outweigh major environmental damage caused by the mine if it went ahead.

The first two weeks of hearings were held this month in Christchurch but this week, the hearings would continue in Greymouth District Court before returning next Monday to Christchurch for the final week. A decision was due early next year.

Last week, Munro said Bathurst hoped the mine would start extraction by mid-2013.

The Press