THE Queensland Government has approved a $900 million coal mine expansion proposal in the Darling Downs after pledging to block an earlier proposal for the site during the 2012 election. New Hope Group’s planned New Acland Stage 3 Project would extend the life of the 4.8 million tonne per annum open cut coal mine to about 2029; the mine is currently expected to continue operations until 2017.

In the lead-up to the 2012 Queensland election, LNP leader Campbell Newman said he would not support New Hope’s original expansion plan due to its impact on agricultural land and local townships. However in December, deputy Premier Jeff Seeney announced the Queensland Coordinator General had approved the new proposal, subject to 137 strict conditions.

The new proposal reduces the project’s footprint by about 60 per cent and relinquished 1400 hectares of the mining lease area, including in the town of Acland, as well as moving rail load-out facilities and mining activities further from nearby townships.

An expanded New Acland mine would have a maximum throughput of 7.5mtpa, rather than 10mtpa.

“Today’s decision from the Coordinator General is a significant step towards construction of this mine and great economic news for the Darling Downs and southeast Queensland,” Mr Seeney said.

“This mine expansion is set to create over 250 jobs during construction and another 435 operational jobs, as well as providing business opportunities in the nearby towns of Dalby, Oakey, Pittsworth and others.

“The reduced scope of this project in response to local concerns is a good example of a resource company working hard to achieve community confidence.” New Hope managing director Shane Stephan welcomed the decision.

“The New Hope Group has worked very hard over an extended period, and has consulted widely with the local community, on a revised compromise plan for the continuation of the New Acland mine which addresses concerns over the previous proposal,” he said.

“The approval of the New Acland Stage 3 Project ensures that the current employment and economic benefits are not lost to the Darling Downs and that New Hope continues to be a major employer in the region.”

Mr Stephan said New Hope intended to source new employees from the local region where possible.

Clean Air Queensland spokesman Michael Kane said Mr Newman had walked away from a core election promise and the decision would become a major issue in the upcoming state election. The New Acland mine expansion still requires Federal environmental approval and further state approvals.