4 Nov 2015

West Coast economic strategy questioned

12:35 pm on 4 November 2015

A mining strategy seeking new pathways to economic growth on the South Island's West Coast has been criticised as lacking substance.

But while some say the strategy issued this week reveals nothing new, Development West Coast insists it is not just more of the same.

Digger loads up a truck at Stockton Coal Mine.

Digger loads up a truck at Stockton Coal Mine. Photo: 123RF

The West Coast Minerals Strategy, produced by Development West Coast, the mayors of the three local councils and the West Coast Regional Council, has been labelled by the Greens as little more than a "glossy brochure".

The strategy includes ambitious targets of a 35 percent growth in the Coast's GDP and a 25 percent growth in jobs by 2030, through new business development.

Despite criticism it had missed the mark, Development West Coast insisted that the document, now open for public feedback, was an important tool for gauging residents' views on where they felt development should head.

Chief operating officer Warren Gilbertson said people needed to look past coal, and more towards the Coast's wider range of mineral resources, which the science said was there.

"There's been quite a lot of work already undertaken by GNS Science as well as MBIE, and there's considerable mineral resource on the Coast - and it's not just coal but a number of different minerals," Mr Gilbertson said.

He said examples were precious stones like garnets, but Reefton based mineral industry consultant John Taylor said from his understanding, the quality of garnet present was not of a high grade.

He said small, high-grade underground gold mines, which left few scars on the landscape, were options for the future, but there were drawbacks.

"On the negative side of that the new health and safety regulations that have come out post Pike River have really put a bit of a dampener on underground mining," Mr Taylor said.

He said it was too soon to write off the potential for coal mining, and that high-grade coking coal from the West Coast, which was used to make steel for things like cars, was in short supply around the world.

"Coal is still a very valuable commodity for steel making. At the moment China's produced so much steel, and because of the slow-down in the Chinese economy there is a mountain of surplus steel. So, China needs to use up its stockpiles before it will start upping the shipment of coal from places like New Zealand," Mr Taylor said.

Development West Coast chairman John Sturgeon said they wanted to work with investors who demonstrated commitment to protecting the environment and working with local communities.

Mr Gilbertson said proposed changes to the Resource Management Act would make the pathway easier, without compromising environmental factors.

Green Party energy and resources spokesperson Gareth Hughes said the report was "mostly slogans", without any concrete options or solutions for the hundreds on the Coast who had lost their jobs in recent years.

He said the strategy lacked the results of any feasibility studies and ignored a critical key to change.

"The West Coast has a proud mining heritage and it's taken an important role in the past but what we see out recently is simply a glossy brochure with very little detail. The key issue is right - the West Coast needs to diversify its economy - but you do that by diversifying industries, not just by diversifying what type of rocks you mine," Mr Hughes said.

Mr Gilbertson said it was not a statutory document, and he expected a strong response from the Coast communities. He said once consultation was finished, key themes would be summarised and presented back in the first quarter of next year.

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