Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Pike River families meeting Prime Minister Bill English this afternoon

Pike River families spokesman Bernie Monk is among those meeting with Prime Minister Bill English today. Photograph by Dean Purcell.
Pike River families spokesman Bernie Monk is among those meeting with Prime Minister Bill English today. Photograph by Dean Purcell.

Pike River families are meeting with Prime Minister Bill English for the first time this afternoon in what they hope will be an end to a six-year impasse over re-entering the coal mine.

The families will be backed by the Government's former chief mines inspector Tony Forster, who has travelled from Australia to be at the meeting in the Beehive.

Forster, who was chief inspector from 2013 to 2016, believes the Pike River mine's drift can be re-entered safely - contrary to advice provided to the mine's owner and state-owned enterprise Solid Energy.

The families plan to brief English on a report they commissioned which shows how the drift could be safety reclaimed.

One of their goals is to get an independent inquiry which can cut through conflicting advice on the feasibility of re-entering the mine on the South Island's West Coast.

English has previously said it was unsafe to re-enter the mine. Speaking to reporters this afternoon, he would not say whether he was open to changing his mind.

He did not want to "pre-empt" his discussion with the families, saying "these are people who have suffered the distress of enormous loss".

But he added that any re-entry was not a Government decision and was "at its core a safety issue".

Solid Energy had planned to permanently seal the mine in November but families and supporters of the victims have blockaded the access road. A local farmer has also gifted legal control of the road to the families, further complicating the mining company's plans to close off the entrance.

A petition will be presented at Parliament tomorrow by supporter of the families and author Dame Fiona Kidman, who says Solid Energy should not be permitted to close off the mine. The company is also appearing at Parliament for its annual review.

Pike River mine has been closed since a gas explosion in 2010 killed 29 workers.

- NZ Herald

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