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Flogging the Farm - Big Coal's Massive Land Grab

A new study by the Lock the Gate Alliance shows that coal companies have bought up vast areas of freehold land, including much of the highest quality agricultural land, in the Hunter Valley and Gunnedah Basin. 

The analysis reveals that coal companies have bought up more than 702,000 acres of freehold land in these two regions - an area greater than the size of the entire Australian Capital Territory.  It's a massive land grab - our governments' aggressive support for expanded coal mining means we're flogging off the farm to multi-national coal companies.

Download and read our research paper analysing the data here.

The scale of land ownership by coal mining companies in the Hunter Valley has long been a cause of anxiety and speculation to local people. Coal companies own not just the direct area targeted for mining, but also own large numbers of properties that are unliveable due to noise and dust impacts of nearby mines, and large areas supposed to be set aside for biodiversity offsetting.

Lock the Gate looked at coal mining leases and land ownership in eight local government areas affected by mining: Gloucester, Gunnedah, Liverpool Plains, Mid-western, Muswellbrook, Narrabri, Singleton, and Upper Hunter. We conducted land title searches and analysed the information in a digital mapping system. This map was generated by matching NSW cadastre data to land and property ownership information obtained by Lock the Gate. 


 Other key findings:

  • In the Muswellbrook Local Government Area, coal companies have bought 24% of all freehold land and 23% of all mapped Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land, and in the Singleton Local Government Area, they own 15% of all freehold land and 27% of all mapped Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land. 
  • This startling concentration of mining company land ownership is undoubtedly already causing negative impacts to agricultural industries in these areas.
  • Foreign and multinational corporations own or occupy 86% of all coal company land in the Hunter Valley and Gunnedah Basin. UK companies hold 35%, Chinese corporations hold 12%, USA companies hold 7% and Japanese companies 5% of coal company land.  Korean, Indian and Brazilian companies together hold and additional 7% of coal company land. 
  • With every new mine and mine expansion that is approved, more properties are identified to be bought by multi-national mining giants.
  • Identified coal companies own at least 6% of all freehold land in the study area, which increases to 6.5% of all freehold land if all areas owned or occupied by coal companies via coal mining leases are considered  
  • In addition to farmland, 12% of the land covered by coal mining leases in the study area is public land – half of which is State Forest. This problem is most startling in Narrabri and Mid-Western local Government areas, where 40% and 32% of coal leases are held over public lands respectively.
  • Multinational coal giant Glencore-Xstrata holds the largest area of coal owned land in the study area followed by Whitehaven Coal, Rio Tinto, Peabody, BHP Billiton, Yancoal, Shenhua and Idemitsu.

Recent coal mine approvals have mandated mass purchases of rural land by coal companies.  For example, the number of properties that have been identified for purchase by mining companies because the noise and dust impacts are so severe, include the following: 12 properties near the Maules Ck mine, 16 properties near the Moolarben mine, 36 properties near the Mangoola mine, 18 properties near Mt Owen.  The Mount Pleasant proposal, which has not yet gone ahead, identified 47 properties for purchase and the last Bengalla approval had 21 properties within the acquisition area.

There are numerous other mines that are now seeking approvals or expansions that will see even more of our best farmlands flogged off to multi-nations, such as Shenhua's Watermark project, on the Liverpool Plains, the expansion of the Mount Thorley and Warkworth mines towards Bulga village, and the Rocky Hill coal mine, next to Gloucester.