The Environment Court has paved the way for an expansion project for the Newmont Waihi Gold mine.
In a decision released today, the court has recommended the Minister of Energy and Resources Phil Heatley approve the Martha Exploration Project (MEP).
If approved, the project would allow the mining company to tunnel into the north wall of the Martha open pit within the boundaries of the current Martha Mining Licence area.
Exploration operations underground will be permitted 24 hours a day, seven days a week and blasting hours extended.
However, Environment Court Judge Melanie Harland recommended MEP as a stand-alone project that must be completed by July 7, 2017.
Any mining project that resulted from the exploration activities would require a separate application.
Green Party mining spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty, Maori trustee group Te Kupenga O Ngati Hako and some Waihi locals submitted to the court to restrict operating hours and against extending the hours of blasting.
Ms Delahunty said it was disappointing the Environment Court ruled in favour of the foreign-owned mining giant.
"Most submitters were not outright opposed to the proposal, they simply wanted reasonable restrictions placed on operations. It's a shame that these reasonable demands were ignored,'' Ms Delahunty said.
"Once again Waihi residents will pay the price in further disruption to their lives so that Newmont can make more profit that will flow offshore.''
Ms Delahunty called for Mr Heatley to refuse approval of the project without the reasonable restrictions to the mining operations.
Newmont Waihi Gold general manager Glen Grindlay said that while it was heartening to have the project recommended to the minister by the Environment Court, he was aware that the company still had work to do in the local community.
"We know that there are some members of the community who are still unhappy with MEP, and we would like to continue to work with them. Also, the court has clearly pointed out that we did not do all we could to address the concerns of iwi, and we have taken this advice onboard.''
Mr Grindlay said that although the Environment Court had recommended the variation to the Mining Licence be approved, that did not mean work could start immediately.
"There is a period of fifteen working days to allow for an appeal on points of law, and then...(Mr) Heatley would need to sign the variation before we are able to start work. In reality, this could be well into the new year.''
Newmont is also seeking consent for a significant new mine, called the Correnso Mine, under the eastern residential area of Waihi. Hearings for the Correnso Mine begin next month.