Approval of a new expansion of the controversial Warkworth coal mine in the Hunter Valley has exposed the NSW planning system as incapable of upholding the commitments and conditions made for coal mining projects, and brings community confidence in the Government to rock bottom; according to the Lock The Gate Alliance.
The approval of the Warkworth Modification 6 project was announced today, two months after the proponent, Rio Tinto, lodged its development application. The approval allows the company to expand its mining operations towards the village of Bulga, into an environmentally sensitive area where open-cut coal mining was expressly prohibited in the conditions of the mine’s original approval. The new approval covers part of the area subject to a previous, larger mining expansion that was rejected by the NSW Land and Environment Court last year.
“The approval of this modification by the Planning and Assessment Commission confirms what Hunter communities have long suspected: the promises and commitments made between Government and coal companies are worthless crap”, said Steve Phillips, Hunter Coordinator for the Lock The Gate Alliance. “From here on, we know where we stand: conditions imposed by Government to protect the community and the environment from the impacts of coal mining will be changed later if it suits the convenience of the company, and the public interest be damned.”
The NSW Government has been criticised throughout the approval process for working closely with Rio Tinto to have the project pushed through the planning system with minimal input from the community or independent experts. Its handling of the matter has been referred by local residents to the Independent Commission Against Corruption, which is investigating the matter.
“The Planning Department has worked hand-in-glove with Rio Tinto to ensure this project was fast-tracked to approval, with an absolute minimum of oversight and assessment. This is an extraordinary dark day for public confidence in Government. They have not only abandoned the people of Bulga: they have abandoned any pretence of procedural fairness,” said Phillips.
“The expansion of the Warkworth coal mine threatens the very existence of the historic village of Bulga. The Government may be willing to sacrifice Bulga for the benefit of a powerful global mining corporation, but there are many in the community who are not. We will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Bulga residents to protect their town. Too many Hunter villages have already been lost to mining – Bulga must not be next.”