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Minister clears the way for Bylong mine decision, but fails to give certainty to farmers

Lock the Gate Alliance says changes to the NSW state environmental planning policy for mining made by Planning Minister Rob Stokes today have failed to give certainty to the state’s farmers by leaving strategic agricultural lands available for mining.

The changes were made to clear the way for a decision on the controversial Bylong coal mine.

Mr Stokes gazetted changes to the State Environmental Planning Policy (Mining, Petroleum and Extractive Industries) 2007 clarifying that a “gateway certificate” remains current until a mining project is determined. 

The gateway process was introduced by the NSW government in 2013 but has been roundly condemned by farming groups because it allows mining to occur on mapped strategic agricultural land, which are the most fertile 3.5% of soils in the state. 

The change has been made to clear the way for a decision by the Independent Planning Commission over a contentious coal mine in the Bylong Valley that would remove 13% of the mapped strategic agricultural land in the district. 

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said, “Minister Stokes has failed again to address the underlying cause of mining conflict in regional New South Wales by clearing the way for the Bylong mine to be approved and failing to establish basic protections for the most fertile soils in the state. 

“Strategic agricultural land is rare and should be afforded the highest protection. Instead, in New South Wales, it’s available for open cut coal mining. 

“This Government is happy to give certainty to mining companies, but farming communities, are forced to go through years of protracted conflict and expense fighting for the basic protections they need to farm sustainably.

“The fate of the precious Bylong Valley is in the hands of the Independent Planning Commission, which could make its decision any hour now. The IPC might decide to stop it, or it might let the mine proceed and that is the uncertainty farmers are condemned to live with because this government can’t stand up to the mining industry.” 

The gazetted changes announced today also create a 2.5km buffer around the village of Bulga, which Minister Stokes promised to do when he was Planning Minister four years ago. 

Ms Woods said, “A secure buffer for the village of Bulga is welcome, but it comes years too late and leaves all other rural villages in the Hunter and the Namoi at risk of being overwhelmed by mines. Why should communities have to fight for years in the courts and the planning process for this protection?”

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