24 Apr 2010

Full extent of original mining plans revealed

12:59 pm on 24 April 2010

The full extent of the Government's original plans for opening national parks to mining exploration, has been revealed in papers obtained from the Ministry of Economic Development.

They show the plan went through at three major redraftings in a matter of weeks.

Mining activities are currently banned in 40% of conservation estate under Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act, which identifies areas of unique biodiversity or landscapes of cultural or historic value.

Officials initially recommended allowing mining exploration on huge swathes of land, including up to nearly 90% of Rakiura National Park on Stewart Island.

The first draft, signed off by Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee and Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson on 12 February, identified 467,517 hectares for removal from Schedule 4.

In a second draft, signed on 23 February, this was reduced to just over 7000 hectares.

A minute of a Cabinet discussion on 8 March notes that Schedule 4 areas would not be included in investigations, but this decision was later reversed.

The Government contribution to a proposed Conservation Fund was also cut from $4 million per year to $2 million.

Minor changes were made for the third and final draft, which is currently available for public consultation.

It recommends removing up to 16 areas of protected land from Schedule 4 to allow mining for minerals worth nearly $200 billion.

Mr Brownlee says the decision to reduce the amount of land was not based on any public discussion, but was based on the need to protect the conservation estate.

He says the first draft included all areas of protected land which had known mineral deposits.

Mr Brownlee says he made it clear to officials this was unacceptable and officials then defined a smaller, more specific area.

He says public perception did not play a role in the reduction of the amount of land.

No area safe - EDS

However, the Environmental Defence Society says no protected areas are ruled out completely.

Chairman Gary Taylor says the Government has simply split the plan in two, with some areas targeted for investigation over the next nine months.