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Lock the Gate urges reinstatement of legal check and balance in wake of Wollar court loss

The devastating loss yesterday of Wollar Progress Association’s judicial review challenge to the approval of the Wilpinjong coal mine expansion has prompted Lock the Gate Alliance to call on the New South Wales Government to restore full legal appeal rights to communities affected by large scale coal mines.

Planning law in New South Wales allows the Planning Minister to take away the right to challenge the merit of coal mine approvals in the Land and Environment Court simply by telling the Independent Planning Commission to hold a public hearing. It is now routine for this to be done for all large and controversial mining projects, including the Wilpinjong Extension Project.

Communities affected by large coal mines in the Hunter Valley have repeatedly appealed to the Government to stop taking away the public’s right to challenge the merits of mining approvals that have significant environmental and social impacts.

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said, “We have this terrible regulatory failure where decisions are made to approve coal mines that have irreversible damaging consequences, but there is no legal avenue for communities to appeal to the Land and Environment Court to test whether the Planning Commission got the balance right and made the right decision.

“The community at Wollar had only very narrow legal rights to challenge the approval of the Wilpinjong coal mine expansion. They were denied the right to seek review in the Land and Environment Court of the merits of the expansion of the Wilpinjong mine.

“The Planning Commission is not going to always make the right decision. No one does. Without merits appeal rights, bad decisions can’t be revisited and reviewed and over time, that means we’re losing small villages, we’re losing water resources and we’re losing productive land to coal mines that really are not in the public interest.

“You have to ask, what is the Government so afraid of that it continually closes off legal avenues for appeal for people affected by coal mines? Are they afraid that the Court will find that some of the coal mines being approved aren’t in the public interest after all?

“What the Hunter Valley needs is balance and to have balance, you need the crucial legal right to go to court and test the merits of mining approvals. We’re appealing to Planning Minister Anthony Roberts to let there be reasonable checks and balances in these high stakes mining decisions.”

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