Friday 16th February 2018
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The High Court has ruled that the Crown Minerals Act has primacy over the Reserve Act in an application to mine coal on reserve land in Buller.
Justice Gerald Nation's ruling was sought by Rangitira Developments, which wanted to know what Buller District Council was required to consider when considering its application for access to land managed by the council as a 'water conservation reserve' under the Reserve Act. Rangitira wants to develop the Te Kuha open cast coal mine at the site which is south of the Denniston and Stockton Plateaus, southeast of Westport.
It already holds a mining permit granted under the Crown Minerals Act but mine development also requires approval from the Buller District Council to access its land. Approval is also needed from the Department of Conservation because the development extends onto a small portion of stewardship land. Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage has declined to comment on the case, given she still needs to make a decision jointly with the Minister of Energy and Resources, in regard to mining on the conservation land.
In the meantime, Forest and Bird has appealed the resource consent. DOC has joined the appeal process as an interested party to provide expert advice.
Rangitira is owned by a limited partnership associated with Stevenson Group which includes Stevenson Mining and was granted resource consents following a hearing by commissioners. That decision was adopted by the council, whose officers had advised that the local authority only had to have regard to the Reserves Act. Opposing the plans is the Forest & Bird Protection Society, which argues that the Reserves Act, with its more restrictive obligations on the council "to manage and protect the scenic, biological and natural features present on the reserve to the extent compatible with" the primary purpose of the reserve.
The reserve, from which Westport draws its water supply, is about 1,825 hectares. Rangitira specifically asked the court what role s23 of the Reserves Act had in decisions regarding access for coal mining made by administering bodies of reserves under s60 Crown Minerals Act which covers right of access arrangements. It wanted to know whether the council could exercise its discretion in weighing factors such as economic benefits to the region and offers to offset environmental impact with the enhancement of other natural areas.
Justice Nation held that the application for access is to be treated as an application governed by the Crown Minerals Act but that in considering all relevant matters it should have regard to the values that the Reserves Act seeks to protect. But matters relevant under the Crown Minerals Act could include the economic and social benefits which the Buller District might obtain and it was for the council to decide what the ultimate outcome should be.
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