Australian exploration company Bathurst Resources has gained access approval to establish an open cast coal mine on the Denniston Plateau, near Westport, New Zealand.
New Zealand Conservation Minister Nick Smith said he granted the approval under the Crown Minerals Act.
But the mine, to be built on conservation land, is still pending approvals under the Resource Management Act, which is subject to a pending decision from the Environment Court.
Smith said the approval is for an open-cast escarpment mining project that occupies 106 hectares of the 2,026 hectares that comprise the Denniston Plateau.
"This area is not a National Park, nor Conservation Park, nor does it have any particular reserve status. It is general stewardship land, which is the lowest legal status of protection of land managed by the Department of Conservation," said Smith.
"The area does have conservation values although there has been some disturbance from previous mining including roads, bulldozer tracks and an artificial reservoir. The area also has some infestation from weeds like gorse and broom."
Bathurst Resources, through its subsidiary company Buller Coal, plans to extract and export between one and four million tonnes of coal per year from the project.
The proposed mine, which is expected to be valued at $57m, will be the second largest open cast coal mine in the country.
Bathurst Resources has offered a NZ$22m ($17.74m) compensation package for the loss of conservation values, which can be put into use for pest and predator control over 25,000ha of the Heaphy River catchment in the Kahurangi National Park.
"This is the largest ever compensation package negotiated by DOC for a mine or other commercial venture," said Smith.
"The government will be working with all parties to try and find a 'bluegreen' long term plan for the whole Denniston Plateau that balances conservation protection with the need for jobs and development."
Image: Bathurst Resources plans to extract and export between one and four million tonnes of coal per year from the open cast coal mine. Photo: dan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.