23 May 2012

Mineral survey could bring riches to Northland - minister

11:28 pm on 23 May 2012

The Energy Minister says a new report on Northland's potential mineral wealth opens the way for a new era in the region's economy.

Phil Heatley officially launched the results of a $2 million survey of Northland's geology at Waitangi on Wednesday which he says shows potential for the mining of precious metals including gold, silver and copper.

About 50 Maori and Green protesters made their feelings about mining heard outside the Copthorne Hotel in the town, kept at a distance by police.

At the launch, about 200 people representing councils, iwi and Northland business interests gathered to hear what the latest aeromagnetic survey has revealed about what riches may lie beneath Northland's soil.

The survey was funded by Northland councils and the Ministry of Economic Development. Phil Heatley says although such surveys are common overseas, this one was the first of its kind in New Zealand.

"My understanding, in terms of minerals, (is) there seems to be quite a positive outlook in terms of gold, silver and copper which is quite interesting. In the north here there tended to be lower value minerals such as clays and that type of thing."

That is about as much detail as the minister could reveal. Technical data gathered now needs to be analysed by experts before it yields more useful information.

However, Mr Heatley says it is the prospect of mining that could lead to a step change in Northland's economy.

"And boy do we need a step change to create jobs and improve our standard of living.

"It's a sad fact that many families across New Zealand and in Northland are waving goodbye at the airport to their families who are going to get involved in the mining resource industry in Australia.

"It's madness, madness when we could have that here."

Gift for companies, not citizens, say Greens

The Green Party's mining spokesperson, Catherine Delahunty, says the survey is a gift from central government and local government to mining companies - but not to taxpayers and citizens.

"The mining industry have had a free pass - they now get to know where these interesting areas are. People do not have the opportunities to stop this rollercoaster.

"It's quite frightening to see the level of collaboration between the different government agencies and local authorities and the mining industry because they have enormous power."

Some Ngapuhi iwi leaders say the information could be valuable for them, as long as they could retain control over mining activity on their whenua, or land.

But others have serious reservations and questions for Far North mayor Wayne Brown - a strong advocate of opening the region up to mining.

One member of Ngapuhi asked Mr Brown on Wednesday if he could hold the process up until the iwi comes to a determination about their claims.

Mr Brown replied that the question would be better directed to Phil Heatley because the council is not a party to that. "Secondly, we've produced information, and at least now you'll know better what you're claiming."

The mayor says modern-day mining by well-capitalised companies would not wreck the Northland environment and would provide the hundred of well-paid jobs the region desperately needs.

Crown agency New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals says the survey will be made available free of charge to mining companies and it will be inviting tenders for exploration permits later this year.