30 Jul 2012

Debate over mining consent changes

8:27 pm on 30 July 2012

New arguments are emerging over possible changes to the way large scale projects such as coal or gold mines are approved.

They follow suggestions the Government might change the law to simplify approvals for projects that are important for a region.

At present, "call-in" procedures allow projects of national significance to win appproval in a more straight forward manner than regional projects do.

Energy and Resources Minister Phil Heatley says analysis now underway could end up with national and regional projects getting the same treatment.

The move comes as Australian giant Bathurst Resources faces a legal challenge to its coal project near Westport.

Changes the minister is considering will be opposed by the Labour Party.

Environment spokesperson Grant Robertson says there will be a need from time to time to fast track applications for consent, but a category of regionally significant projects would create uncertainty.

"Anything that limits public participation starts to undermine the RMA (Resource Management Act)."

Chris Baker of mining industry lobbyist group Straterra thinks changes that limit what he calls vexatious or frivolous legal challenges are welcome, but he stresses he has no interest in limiting local rights to challenge a project.

Mr Baker says a balance needs to be reached.

Environment Minister Amy Adams, however, says the plan for a limit on the consent process for medium-sized projects is entirely reasonable.

Ms Adams says no one benefits from having the consent process drawn out over months or years, and good quality decisions would still be made with a six-month timeframe.

Examples of medium-sized projects include new subdivisions, retail developments, windfarms, or mining developments.