Government accused of failing to follow conservation law with stewardship land review

The Government's been accused of failing to follow conservation law in its reclassifying of hundreds of thousands of hectares of public land on the West Coast.

Conservationists say it means they're reneging on a 2017 promise to ban new mines on conservation land.

The conservation status of large areas of the West Coast is under review.

"This reclassifying work will protect thousands and thousands more hectares than currently," Conservation Minister Poto Williams told Newshub Nation over the weekend.

A government-appointed panel is reclassifying more than 600,000 hectares 

But legal and environmental experts say of the 504 parcels of land being reviewed, the panel has classified 282 of them wrongly.

"In other words, they've recommended a classification for those parcels of land that provides less protection than they're required to recommend under the law," Gary Taylor, the Environmental Defence Society chair, said.

Taylor thinks the panel has unlawfully considered commercial uses of the land, like mining.

"It's failed to give adequate weight to ecological values, and for that reason its recommendations should not be followed by the Minister," he said.

The reclassification process is the excuse given by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for why she hasn't made good on a promise to ban new mines on conservation land.

It's a long-held belief of Ardern's - in 2010 she marched against the-then National-led Government's plans to open sensitive land to mining - who's realising it's a little harder to agitate for change in Government.

Asked if she would commit to fulfilling the promise by the next election, Ardern said: "One of the things we're looking at... we've said look finally, where other Governments haven't been willing, we are finally willing to address the issue of stewardship land".

But Taylor says waiting for the review to be completed is "very thin rationale" for not implementing the ban.

Some living on the Coast have a different view entirely, saying they need all industries possible to contribute to the economy.

"The Coast does need more mining and agriculture. We've only got 15 percent of the land area to support the population," said Allan Birchfield, the West Coast Regional Council chair.

Stewardship land is 30 percent of the conservation estate so environmentalists say it's crucial the long-term protection is in line with the law. Legal experts warn if the Conservation Minister goes ahead with these recommendations, it could lead to a judicial review.