‘Not our stance’: Expert advice on mine riles councillors

A view of the western fringe of the proposed Tiga Minerals mining area near Barrytown, with the...
A view of the western fringe of the proposed Tiga Minerals mining area near Barrytown, with the Canoe Creek lagoon and wetland on the right. Photo: Supplied/ LDR
West Coast councillors are not happy after their own expert consultant expressed a view there was "no need" for a controversial sand mine proposal.

Australian-based Tiga Minerals and Metals has applied for consent to operate a mineral sands mine on about 63ha of the Barrytown Flat, north of Greymouth.

During the consent hearing, the council's own expert said "there is no need to extract minerals from that site" and raised concerns about the proposal.

This sparked frustration from councillors, who said they were "pro the miners" and it was not the regional council's stance.

A decision from a joint West Coast Regional and Grey District councils independent panel is due about April 23.

Regional council Resource Management Committee chairperson Brett Cummings said said he was concerned at the oppositional position taken by council's expert reporting officer during the hearing on March 19.

"He was saying the mine should not be going ahead. That's not our stance. It's not for him to make that call on behalf of the regional council," Cummings said.

"All the councillors are pro the miners. It's not his decision to be passing comments like that."

Cummings said he had canvassed all the other councillors.

"None of us are happy with his stance."

The council officer, a contracted consultant, spoke about his expert report on March 19. They argued "a functional need" was not present, as the minerals sought were available elsewhere in the area.

Hearing panel chairperson John Maassen questioned the officer's understanding of the "functional need" for the proposal.

The consultant responded: "To me that means there is no need to extract minerals from that site."

The council officer also said the proposal to install ancillary facilities within 100 metres of a wetland setback to protect the adjoining wetback during mining should be declined.

"My recommendation is to refuse consent for that."

The proposed ancillary facilities include pumps and water infiltration wells to help protect and supplement the hydrology of Canoe Creek wetland.

Cummings, a trained hearing commissioner and gold miner, said the officer should have taken a neutral approach.

"It's not (the reporting officer's) decision to be passing comments like that."

Cummings said Crown agency NZ Petroleum and Minerals had already permitted the proposed mine area.

"The government has decided it's OK to mine that area … We're in favour of the mine going ahead if it ticks all the boxes."

Councillor Peter Ewen said the expert's comments seemed extraordinary.

"I thought he overstepped his mandate ... it was inappropriate. You can't come with a pre-determined view without hearing all the evidence. You're meant to be impartial.

"At the end of the day, the commissioners will make their decision."

On April 3, West Coast Regional Council chief executive Darryl Lew said the reporting officer, an independent planning expert, was there on behalf of the council as the consenting body.

"He has to abide by the code of ethics for planners … that must include not being biased in any way. 

"The issue is some councillors are frustrated why this (proposal) can't just go ahead. But from a council officer's perspective, what we have to do is compare the application to the law."

Lew said he would respond more fully in a written reply to LDR, but noted neither council management or councillors could influence the hearing panel's decision.

Tiga's proposal had been declined once already, in 2022, due to insufficient supporting information.

The fresh hearing panel for the proposal convened on February 5.

The Grey District Council's independent expert found the proposal "would have only a minor adverse effect on the amenity of neighbouring properties".

A total of 357 submissions were received - 153 in support, 194 in opposition and nine either neutral or not stated.

- By Brendon McMahon
Local Democracy Reporter

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air