RIO Tinto subsidiary Coal & Allied has lost a Supreme Court appeal to progress its Mt Thorley Warkworth (MTW) coal mine expansion after the initial proposal was overturned last year.
The two open cut mines comprising MTW, 15km south of Singleton in NSW’s Hunter Valley, would have increased production to 18 million tonnes per annum of semi-soft coking coal and thermal coal under the plans – 8mtpa above the current production capacity.
The company also proposed 150 new jobs on top of the current 1300-person workforce. The NSW Government originally granted planning consent for the proposed expansion; however the decision was overturned by the state’s Land and Environment Court in April 2013 due to unhealthy dust and noise level forecasts.
Coal & Allied submitted a revised expansion proposal to the NSW Supreme Court of Appeal earlier this year, pledging $4 million towards a regeneration program for Warkworth Sands Woodland; 1800 hectares of nearby land for national park use; and money for training local youth.
However, the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal.
Land and Environment Court chief judge Justice Brian Preston said the appeal was overruled due to “the significant, diverse biological adversity, noise and dust and social impacts of the project”.
“[The impacts] would exacerbate the sense of loss of place, and materially and adversely change the sense of community of the residents of Bulga and the surrounding countryside,” Justice Preston said. NSW Environmental Defenders Office principal solicitor Sue Higginson said the outcome was “a terrific win for the community and public interest law”.
“The Court of Appeal found no fault with the Land and Environment Court decision that the economic benefits of the coal mine did not outweigh the significant impacts on Bulga residents and the destruction of rare forests containing endangered plant and animal species,” Ms Higginson said.
However, Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association vice president and mine opponent John Krey said the outcome was “almost a hollow victory”.
“This should be the end of it but it’s not,” Mr Krey said.
He said Bulga residents would continue to pressure Planning and Infrastructure minister Brad Hazzard to dismiss Coal & Allied’s mine extension application, now that it had been rejected under two different court rulings.
Coal & Allied managing director Darren Yeates reacted by slamming the NSW planning system, as MTW workers vowed “not to give up”.
“The overturning of the decision followed a rigorous three-and-a-half year government process, and the granting of approval by both state and Commonwealth environment departments,” Mr Yeates said.
Mr Yeates told Sydney Morning Herald the decision was a blow to coal employees, particularly due to the ongoing difficulties in Australia’s coal industry.
“It is also a setback for hundreds of suppliers across the Hunter Valley and NSW who do business with the MTW mine and will directly impact the region’s economy,” he said.
However, Bulga residents reportedly celebrated the decision.
“Everyone on the progress association is over the moon. It’s a massive relief,” local business owner Margueritte Hannaberry said. “We’ve got a lot of happy people who were born and bred in Bulga today.”