Bringing balance to a community discussion on mining

Steve Attwood

Steve Attwood

When TiGa Minerals & Metals announced in March 2023 that it intended to apply for resource consents for a minerals mine on the Barrytown Flats of the South Island’s West Coast, the company became concerned at what it perceived as the lack of balance in the public discussion through local news and social media.

It seemed that those opposed to the application had quickly found their voice and were leading the discussion on the mining proposal. TiGa wanted to ensure that those in the community who saw value in the proposal were encouraged and enabled to have their voices heard also.

With its many years’ experience of West Coast public relations projects, Convergence was contracted to help TiGa engage with the community and bring about more balance to the community discussion.

There were several misconceptions to dispel. These included:

  1. That TiGa was an Australian mining company. Many of the comments about the proposed mine were xenophobic in nature, along the lines of “Aussies coming here to New Zealand to desecrate our landscape”. Convergence had to demonstrate that TiGa was a New Zealand registered company that originated as the ‘Barrytown Project’, an initiative of New Zealand entrepreneurs and investors to develop an ilmenite and garnet mine; and that the benefits would accrue to New Zealand, not be ‘exported’ to Australia.
  2. That the proposed mine was going to destroy natural environments. In fact, the proposed mine would be entirely on humped-and-hollowed privately owned dairy pasture, and TiGa had plans to enhance the natural landscapes on its boundaries.
  3. That the proposal would lead to a vast opencast mine the length of the Barrytown Flats. In truth, the proposal was for a discrete mine within 68ha of private farmland.
  4. That the impact on local wildlife, especial the tāiko (Westland petrel) would be devastating. TiGa needed its plans to remove or greatly mitigate impacts on wildlife to be better known to counter the ‘strong on emotion but light on evidence’ discussion by those opposed.
  5. That the proposal would see huge numbers of heavy vehicles on the Coastal Highway, night and day. TiGa needed its plans to not have vehicles travelling at night made clear, and to put some facts and figures into what was quickly becoming a debate heavy on hyperbole but low on facts.

Convergence’s first response was to make TiGa and its key messages more visible and accessible.

We designed and built a website where all of the company’s information on the mining proposal was located, including all the resource consent documents. This was done well ahead of the same documents being made public via the local councils’ hearings process.

To drive people to the website for more information, our social media campaign used carefully targeted advertisements to place a TiGa Facebook page in front of West Coast audiences.

Simultaneously, a series of media releases and arranged interviews were set up to balance media coverage. The media response was generous and all of Convergence’s releases were covered; with other articles sparking from those released on behalf of TiGa.

Convergence also supported TiGa’s stakeholder engagement activity and helped design presentations for community meetings.

We also wrote and designed a flyer combating many of the misconceptions around the proposal. This was delivered to every letterbox in the communities most involved with the proposal.

The best evidence of the success of this campaign was that at the main public meeting in the Barrytown Hall, only a few days before submissions on the consent proposal were to close, the ‘pro’ voices in the audience were as strong as the ‘anti’. Subsequently, the views of those supporting the proposal were included in local media coverage.

West Coast Regional Council information shows it received 357 submissions on the proposal, of which 153 were in support, nine neutral, and 194 opposed.

While the number of submissions is not a measure of the merits of the arguments put by either the support or opposed camps, what they do show is that, within a few months, the Convergence campaign for TiGa helped create an environment where those supporting the mine were more comfortable about being heard.

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