A new legal entity to take control of Pike River re-entry could be signed-off in the next couple of weeks - but no decision has been made on whether a law change will be needed.
Pike River families met with Andrew Little, Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry, at his Beehive office today, and afterwards Bernie Monk told media they felt they were finally being listened to.
"We are pretty excited. All the problems we have had in the past have been wiped. We are starting with new people on the ground. We have confidence in Mr Little making this happen. And we are going to stick by that and be part of it," said Monk, who lost his son Michael in the disaster.
"Whereas other establishments, other Government, they didn't make us part of that."
Little had previously said manned re-entry of the mine could happen by April next year, but today said it was too early to talk timelines.
The first step was to set up a legal entity to replace state-owned miner Solid Energy, which has control of the mine. Little said he would talk to NZ First leader Winston Peters about different options for that entity before going to Cabinet in the next couple weeks for sign-off.
"We have got a choice between something that is arm's-length, like Solid Energy is at the moment. Or is it something that is closer to the Minister, where I as Minister get to exercise, frankly, a little more control," Little said, saying his preference was for the latter.
"This is a political issue now...and I want to be able to, frankly, show some responsibility and exercise some responsibility and have a structure that enables me to make the critical decisions - setting up the planning, the resourcing of it, using the technical experts.
"The final decision - re-entry or not. That has got to be something that I've got to take responsibility for."
The mine has not been operating since a gas explosion in 2010 killed 29 workers, whose remains have never been removed because of concerns about high methane levels. The National-led Government was working towards unmanned re-entry, but said manned re-entry wouldn't be possible under health and safety laws that were passed after the disaster.
Little has previously said the Government could pass legislation to exempt the new entity from health and safety laws, to allow re-entry.
Today, he said it wasn't clear if legislation would be needed, and he was taking advice on that currently. If it was, he wanted legislation in the House before Christmas and passed early next year.
Anna Osborne, who lost her husband Milton in the Pike explosion, said after the meeting with Little, "we feel part of a team now".
"We feel like we have been finally listened to after seven years. And it feels great...the families are all on board. We are excited now just to get it underway and happening."