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Taranaki iwi welcome Court of Appeal decision on seabed mining consent

Taranaki iwi are celebrating a Court of Appeal decision to throw out an appeal for consent to mine the sea floor off the coast of South Taranaki.

South Taranaki beach (file picture). Source: Supplied

In a judgement released this afternoon, The Court of Appeal has upheld the High Court ruling to overturn mining and discharge consents granted by a decision-making committee (DMC) appointed by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2017, but for other reasons.

Trans-Tasman Resources’ application is to mine iron sand in a 66 square kilometre area in the exclusive economic zone surrounding New Zealand, off the coast of Taranaki.

The consent allows for 50 million tonnes of sea bed to be mined each year, a move which local iwi Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Ruanui and Te Kaahui o Rauru, along with environmental organisations and fishing groups opposed, taking the matter to the High Court.

The Court of Appeal disagreed with the High Court that the consent decision was in line with an ‘adaptive management approach’ which is not permitted under the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Act.

"But the result arrived at reflected a well-founded concern about the scope and terms of the consents, and the mechanisms approved by the DMC for gathering information about the effects of the consented activities after the consents had been granted," the Court of Appeal judgement stated.

The Court of Appeal found the decision-making committee made various errors of law which the High Court then failed to identify, centred on not addressing the impact on the environment from the discharge of harmful substances.

"The DMC attempted to fill critical gaps in the information available about likely environmental effects by requiring the necessary information to be gathered after the consents were granted, before mining commenced and while it was under way. That approach was inconsistent with the EEZ Act," the judgement states.

The protective relationship of Māori toward the environment, kaitiakitanga, and the impact on natural resources from the seabed mining proposal was also not addressed by the decision-making committee.
The decision was not consistent with the Treaty of Waitangi, the Court of Appeal stated.

Ngāti Ruanui kaiarataki Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said the ruling was historic and has national and international implications.
“This was the third time that we’ve been in the courts to stop seabed mining. As kaitiaki, we are clear that we will do whatever we can to protect our moana,” she said in a statement.

Ms Ngarewa-Packer said Trans-Tasman resources wanted to use South Taranaki seabed as a testing ground with risk involved.

“This could have disastrous impacts on our lives, our abundant sea life, our food supply, our commercial fishermen, and the future of our tamariki,” she stated.

Te Kaahui o Rauru tumu whakarae Mike Neho said work needs to continue to ensure the moana (ocean) and coastlines are protected for generations to come.

The consent application has been referred back to the decision-making committee of the Environmental Protection Agency to be reviewed in light of the Court of Appeal’s ruling.

"But we cannot rule out the possibility that consents for more limited activities, or on different terms, might properly be granted by the DMC," the Court of Appeal said in its judgement document.

Those opposing the consent have been awarded for legal costs.

Trans-Tasman Resources executive chairman Alan J Eggers said the company is awaiting advice from its legal team before making further comment.