Conservation Minister refutes F&B's claims

By Ben Aulakh, Kim Fulton of the Westport News

Photo / File
Photo / File

The Government, not Forest and Bird (F&B), secured a protected reserve on the Denniston Plateau, says Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith.

F&B said yesterday that it had agreed not to appeal the Environment Court's consent for the Bathurst Resources' mine, in return for Bathurst creating a reserve.

Top of the South field officer Debs Martin subsequently told Radio Live: "We decided we would do an agreement with Bathurst Resources on one of our major outstanding issues...they had proposed a reserve...we secured an agreement with Bathurst to make sure the reserve goes ahead.''

However, Dr Smith said the Government made it plain early this year that it would be proceeding with the protection of that area on the Denniston Plateau.

"Our view has always been that we should not allow all of the Denniston Plateau to be mined

"Forest & Bird is being a bit cute in saying that they are not going to further appeal the Environment Court decision...because they have got an agreement with Bathurst.

"The reality is that the Government made that commitment way back in April this year.''

Dr Smith said the reserve would have proceeded "regardless'' of what F&B had chosen to do.

"I thought Forest & Bird was overstating the case in saying that the agreement they have reached with Bathurst enables that area to be protected.

"Actually Bathurst doesn't get to make the decisions about what areas will be protected.''

On May 23, when Bathurst was granted access to the plateau, Dr Smith said he wanted to see some of the high-value areas of Denniston put into "permanent protection''.

He also said that rather than long and protracted legal proceedings, it would be better for a common agreement to permanently conserve some of the plateau.

Yesterday Dr Smith welcomed F&B's decision not to launch another appeal against the mine. But he said he was pretty disappointed by "up to seven rounds of court proceedings that has dragged out over two years''.

He said the process had been debilitating for the Westport community.

Ms Martin also said yesterday that F&B thought it could potentially appeal the Environment Court judgment, but an appeal would not necessarily overturn the court decision to grant consent for the mine.

On Radio Live, she admitted that the total mining area on the West Coast amounted to only 14 square kilometres.

However, she said that not all places on the West Coast were created equal, with some areas much higher in terms of biodiversity value than others.

Meanwhile, the Coal Action Network Aotearoa (CANA) is disappointed F&B has agreed not to appeal the decision, but doesn't yet intend to occupy the plateau.

CANA spokesman Kristin Gillies said CANA's opposition to the mine had always been based around climate change. It had never opposed the mine on its conservation values.

CANA believed coal mining had to be phased out and no new coalmines should be opened.

CANA understood F&B's reasons for signing the agreement but didn't believe the campaign was over.

In August CANA said it wouldn't rule out protesting the mine by occupying the Denniston Plateau but Mr Gillies said the group's main focus now was urging Westpac Bank to stop funding Bathurst.

It had more than 1000 signatures to a letter urging Westpac to dump the Denniston project.

Mr Gillies said yesterday's announcement might mean more people would get behind CANA's campaign and see it as another way to stop the mine from going ahead.

Westpac had been propping Bathurst up and if it withdrew its support it would be a major blow to Bathurst.

However, Bathurst has previously said it only has a small amount of equipment finance, of around $5m, with the bank.

Mr Gillies said CANA had asked for a meeting with Westpac's chief executive and was waiting to hear back. Westpac took its sustainability policies seriously and CANA was calling it on that.

A week of action at Westpac branches around the country was coming up, starting on December 2.

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n3 at 03 Sep 2014 18:38:57 Processing Time: 418ms