To: Hon Dr Nick Smith, Minister of Conservation
Date: 22 January 2014
The Authority thanks you for the opportunity to provide advice, pursuant to s18(g) of the National Parks Act 1980 and section 6B (1) (d) and (e) of the Conservation Act 1987.
Basis of Authority advice
The Authority provides its advice based on the mandate received from you in your letter of December 2013; that is, advice on any strategic management issues the concession application may give rise to.
The Authority’s advice is given in the context of its statutory functions. The Authority is not providing advice on the substantive merits of the application or whether you should approve or decline the application, as that is your decision. The Authority does not have a statutory role in the concessions process.
1. Need for a coherent strategy for public access to Milford
The Authority advises, consistent with its earlier advice on the proposed Dart Passage Tunnel, that an overarching coherent strategy for public access to Milford is needed. We believe, in light of these applications and high likelihood of ongoing development interest in the area, that this remains a high priority requirement.
Concession applications, such as the Riverstone Holdings application, should ideally be assessed within the wider context of such a strategy, which would better provide for the public interest than the ‘first-in first-served’ concessions process. Such a strategy could identify and assess the range of options for Milford Sound access and the best way forward. A strategy could sit alongside and help to inform the relevant national park management plans and conservation management strategies.
2. World Heritage status
The area involved with the concession application is within a World Heritage Area. We note that where works may affect a World Heritage Site that the convention is that the
“.. Parties to the Convention [are required] to inform the Committee, through the Secretariat, of their intention to undertake or authorise in an area protected under the Convention major restorations or new constructions which may affect the Outstanding Natural Value of the property. Notice should be given as soon as possible (for instance, before drafting basic documents for specific projects) and before making any decisions that would be difficult to reverse, so that the Committee may assist in seeking appropriate solutions to ensure that the Outstanding Universal Value of the property is fully preserved” .
One of the defining features of the Te Wāhipounamu – South West New Zealand World Heritage Area is that it provides habitat for an extensive range of New Zealand’s endemic fauna, including the only significant remaining populations of the seriously declining mohua / yellowhead (Mohoua ochrecephela). UNESCO World Heritage Commitee draft document p 49-51 (PDF, 2,320K)
An independent large-scale study recently published in Science identified the Te Wāhipounamu – South West New Zealand World Heritage Area as being in the top 78 crucial sites in the world when it comes to preventing extinctions of land animals .
3. Land status
The World Heritage Area overlays a combination of various land statuses, including conservation land held as Stewardship Area under the Conservation Act 1987. These lands were originally held in expectation of a reclassification exercise to give appropriate (higher or retain the same) protection for their values. As you are aware, this is yet to happen. The continuing uncertainty of Stewardship land status, particularly in areas where the conservation values and its intrinsic worth are known to be high, requires resolution so that areas of high conservation importance to New Zealand are appropriately protected.
The Authority notes that the proposed Terminus is within the Fiordland National Park. This activity is currently not permitted within the Park, and can only be permitted within an Amenity Area. For this area to service the Terminus, therefore, an Amenity Area would need to be created, which would require an amendment to the Fiordland National Park Management Plan. This would need to be progressed before a final decision could be made on the monorail.
The Authority would like to see these public access concession applications assessed against an overarching coherent strategy for the region in order to make decisions that are in the public interest, instead of on a step by step basis.
Acting Chair, New Zealand Conservation Authority