Regional economic development on the West Coast needs to include mining, according to Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones.
His vision for the West Coast includes the extractive sector, potentially putting him at odds with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Speech from the Throne and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage. Both promised to end mining on conservation land.
"The extractive sector will not be written out of any script of regional development that I or the party I belong to are a part of," said Jones, a New Zealand First MP.
"Just as the oil and gas reforms in Taranaki left intact people's existing use rights, I am imagining any future changes to the mineral regime will not have an adverse impact on people's existing use rights.
Jones is heading to the Coast tomorrow for further talks with mayors and other interest groups about regional development. An announcement about funding from the Provincial Growth Fund will also be made.
Following Ardern's Speech from the Throne last November in which she said there would be no new mining on conservation land, Sage, a Green MP, flagged that huge areas of conservation land, including on the West Coast, could be off-limits to new mines.
While she said it was not a ban, Sage said she was looking into mechanisms that would achieve that.
"New Zealanders expect that protected lands are places where nature can thrive. They don't expect to see bulldozers and diggers digging up native forests that are protected for conservation."
Jones said a balance needed to be struck between conservation and mining.
"I am very ambitious for the West Coast because I believe sustainable economic development must have an extractive sector.
"Stewardship land has been lying around since Rogernomics times and any changes to stewardship land will be a change of policy agreed to by the entire Government."
Jones and NZ First leader Winston Peters, who is also acting Prime Minister, recently met West Coast mayors, who sought a review of stewardship land that would enable mining to continue as an industry in the region.
"I had a commitment from the mayors when they met with Winston Peters and I that they understood the importance of the coast moving as a region. They then said to me 'if we move regionally and we see an ongoing strong future for the mining sector then we expect you to come with a set of ears that have been cleaned of political wax and actually listen why that segment is so important to us down on the coast', So I'm taking the challenge up and doing that," Jones said.
"There is a stewardship categorisation process under way. That process is the business of the entire Government. Just as the billion-dollar [Provincial Growth] fund is not a joystick for my good self, the same rules apply to categorising the low value components of the stewardship land as it fits over time with the DOC estate."
Jones said there were always going to be different perspectives in a coalition government.
"The perspective I bring as the Regional Development Minister is that the stewardship land categorisation process has to be thorough, it has to be legally robust, and it has to be capable of hearing the various views for the coast as to how such an important resource can best be deployed to sustain the lives of communities and the economy.
"I am more than capable of advocating for their interests as part of a position that will be agreed to by the entirety of the Government."
In June, Sage and Minister of Energy and Resources Megan Woods announced that an application for a mine near Te Kuha in the Buller District has been declined because the economic benefit was not worth the irreparable damage.
Rangitira Developments Ltd had applied to mine 12ha of public conservation land in the Mt Rochfort Conservation Area, near Te Kuha, as part of a large opencast coal mine.
It would have created 60 jobs in the region.