This is a response by David Farrar to the Schedule 4 discussion paper issued in March 2010.
Decisions on whether to allow mining on conservation land require careful consideration of the potential economic benefit from such mining, and balanced up against any environmental impact, including impact on biodiversity, and tourism to iconic areas.
Mining creates jobs (often higher than average paying jobs), increases exports, grows the economy, and through both taxation and royalties provides income to the Government, which allows the Government to reduce debt, or spend more on social services, or both.
This balancing act is highly complex and subjects to the Resource Management Act. It is not something one can assign a blanket rule to. Decisions are best made, on the science and the facts, on individual mining applications. Not all conservation land is of equal value, and not all areas have equal mineral wealth. New Zealand has a robust process for deciding on individual applications, and I believe largely gets it right.
Land under Schedule 4 is removed from the normal process of deciding on a case by case basis whether mining can be permitted. It is a blanket ban on mining of any sort.
I believe only a relatively small amount of land should be in Section 4 – the truly iconic areas such as Milford Sound for example. The normal weighing up of economic benefits vs environmental impact should apply to the vast majority of land. Not being in Schedule 4 does not mean a mining license would automatically be granted – it just means it can be considered.
A huge 3.48 million hectares of land is currently in Section 4. I believe that this amount of land is probably a magnitude too large. Only the most iconic areas should be in Schedule 4, as this rules out even considering mining, regardless of the economic benefits or value.
So generally I support the Government dramatically reducing the quantity of land in Schedule 4. Not as a signal that such land will automatically be mined, but to allow any applications to be considered on their merits on a case by case basis.
In the discussion document, the Government has proposed just five specific removals from Section 4. I support four of those areas being removed, but do not support the removal of the Te Ahumata Plateau on Great Barrier Island for two major reasons, being:
- The island would be very significantly impacted by any commercial mining, due to its unique characteristics.
- Even with removal of Section 4 classification, mining would still be prohibited on the island, so removal of the classification would not produce any possible benefits.
Turning to the first issue concerning the impact on Great Barrier Island, I write with some first hand knowledge having been a semi-regular visitor in recent years.
While one could certainly have a mine in a remote area of a national or forest park with minimal impact, the same does not apply on a small island with less than a dozen main roads.
GBI is unique in having no central electricity supply. Every home and business is powered by solar power and/or generators. In the Te Ahumata Plateau area, there is only one small road that goes past it, and a commercial mining operation would need massive infrastructure investment to operate.
GBI is mainly accessed by air, and most flights fly over the Te Ahumata Plateau. Mining on the Plateau would significant detract from the island’s tourism potential, which is the major source of employment on the island. Commercial mining, along with whaling, should remain activities of the past on the island.
Great Barrier Island is in fact one of those few iconic areas that should be in Schedule 4.Is is that rare exception to considering on a case by case basis.
Regardless of one’s views on whether commercial mining would ever be viable on the island, I also wish to point out that mining would remain prohibited even if Schedule 4 protection is removed, so there are no benefits from removing it.
The Auckland City Council District Plan states:
The following are prohibited activities throughout the islands:
(2) Mining of any mineral irrespective of whether the activity is authorised under the Crown Minerals Act 1991, other than any quarrying, prospecting, or exploration activity (as defined in part 14 – Definitions) authorised in accordance with the Plan.
Not only does the Auckland City District Plan prohibit mining on Great Barrier Island, so the does the Auckland Regional Plan:
13.2.1 In the Hauraki Gulf Islands and in particular on Great Barrier Island, mining, other than quarrying, is not considered to be an appropriate activity in terms of the wider environmental outcomes sought through this policy statement.
Both the District and Regional plans prohibit mining on Great Barrier Island. Some might suggest that a future Auckland Council could change these. This is highly unlikely for two reasons. First I note that both leading Mayoral candidates have said they are strongly opposed to mining on Great Barrier Island.
Just as significantly, any change to these plans would face a legislative hurdle with the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act 2000:
The Act says that:
(9) Relationship of Act with Resource Management Act 1991
(2) A regional council must ensure that any part of a regional policy statement or a regional plan that applies to the Hauraki Gulf, its islands, and catchments, does not conflict with sections 7 and 8.
(3) A territorial authority must ensure that any part of a district plan that applies to the Hauraki Gulf, its islands, and catchments, does not conflict with sections 7 and 8.
Section 7 and 8 say
(7) Recognition of national significance of Hauraki Gulf
• (1) The interrelationship between the Hauraki Gulf, its islands, and catchments and the ability of that interrelationship to sustain the life-supporting capacity of the environment of the Hauraki Gulf and its islands are matters of national significance.
(2)(c) to maintain the soil, air, water, and ecosystems of the Gulf.
(8) Management of Hauraki Gulf
• To recognise the national significance of the Hauraki Gulf, its islands, and catchments, the objectives of the management of the Hauraki Gulf, its islands, and catchments are—
(a) the protection and, where appropriate, the enhancement of the life-supporting capacity of the environment of the Hauraki Gulf, its islands, and catchments:
It seems quite clear that even of a future Auckland Council wanted to amend their regional and district plan to allow mining, it would almost certainly be found by the Environment Court to be incompatible with the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act 2000.
Further, even if the incredibly implausible scenario came to pass that a future Auckland Council did decide to and manage to change the local plans to allow for mining, any individual applications would meet Section 9(4):
(4) A consent authority must, when considering an application for a resource consent for the Hauraki Gulf, its islands, and catchments, have regard to sections 7 and 8 in addition to the matters contained in the Resource Management Act 1991.
This effectively would force any consent authority to decline any mining application.
So bearing in mind the current Auckland City District Plan, Auckland Region Regional Plan and the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act 2000, I conclude mining will never be permitted on Great Barrier Island under the current laws, even if it was removed from Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act.
Hence there are no benefits from removing it, so it should remain in Schedule 4.
26 May 2010
Tags: Great Barrier Island