Spring Creek miners could rebuild Christchurch

The entrance to the Spring Creek Mine. Photo / APN
The entrance to the Spring Creek Mine. Photo / APN

Suspended Spring Creek Mine workers could find themselves helping rebuild Christchurch, while Solid Energy decides the future of the under-performing coal pit.

The miners were suspended on full pay last Thursday when the company announced it was in the financial mire and did not have the $70 million required to finish the current development phase.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce met Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn today and told a media briefing shortly afterwards that the Government would not be stumping up the cash.

"We're not intending to say "right, here's some money to tide you over and good luck,"' Mr Joyce said.

Instead, the shareholding ministers told the newly-appointed chairman of Solid Energy, Mark Ford, to conduct a thorough review of the West Coast mining scene and come back with a business plan.

"The chair has given us a clear indication that he is going to do as much as he can to retain as much of the workforce as he can, whatever the outcome of the review."

Mr Joyce said there could be some "innovative" interim measures to keep the workers employed.

Because Mr Ford was also chairman of the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team he was aware of a shortage of about 1000 workers in the quake-hit city. Sending miners over there could be one option.

"It's not a long-term answer but it could be a win-win for everybody," said Mr Joyce. "We are very keen to do the right thing for the Coast and its workers."

The minister could not say how long the Spring Creek review would take.

Mr Kokshoorn said the call for a business plan showed the Government was listening to the community.

"There's a lot of work to do yet, but we have stepped back from the cliff face," he said.

Discussions with Solid Energy chief executive Don Elder revealed there were good prospects for two open-cast mines at Liverpool and one at Pike River, but they would take time to get operational; they could be developed in conjunction with Spring Creek.

"He said Solid Energy has an equity partner for the Pike River project but it would need a little bit of the (Paparoa) National Park being rezoned."

Mr Kokshoorn said he was confident the Government, community and miners' union working together could find a solution to the Spring Creek problem.

Meanwhile, West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O'Connor is demanding the Government steps in and support Solid Energy if a viable mine plan cannot be developed for Spring Creek.

"Yesterday's meeting between union delegates and Solid Energy, which I attended, was very productive and I hope the start of a new and more positive working relationship," he said.

Labour leader David Shearer will be on the West Coast on Monday to meet with union delegates and Development West Coast.

-The Greymouth Star

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