GLOUCESTER Shire Council says it feels vindicated following the release of the Planning Assessment Commission’s (PAC) review of Yancoal’s Stratford mine extension project.
The PAC has urged Yancoal to go back to the drawing board on some aspects of its proposal, including its economic forecasts and noise and biodiversity impacts.
Council had three main objections to the mine: the proposed 24-hour operations; its increasing proximity to Stratford village and the lack of a plan to restore parts of the landscape once the mining operations had ceased.
“The (PAC) agreed with us on many of the issues we raised in our submission and we were particularly pleased by their response to what would be an appropriate contribution to roads,” council’s manager of Planning and Environment Graham Gardener said.
“Largely the review was positive from our perspective. The PAC’s assessment that the proposal may or may not be approved is very different to the approach taken by the State government in the past on mining projects.”
Despite the PAC review, Yancoal is continuing to stick to its guns, but did acknowledge there were risks.
It said the project would employ 250 workers, produce 15 million tonnes of coal and result in up to $45 million per annum in direct expenditure into the local economy.
“The modelling methodology used to estimate the project economic benefits was specified in the Department of Planning and Environment’s Director-General’s environmental assessment requirements for the project,” a spokesperson said.
“The project would produce thermal coal and semi-hard coking coal. The company has the ability to sell the thermal coal from the project under existing contracts at prices above the current thermal coal ‘spot’ price. Semi-hard coking coal from the project is of better quality than coking coals from the Hunter Valley, and therefore, would also be sold at prices above the current coking coal ‘spot’ price.
“Coal prices constantly fluctuate and this affects the commercial risk of the project.”
Gloucester Shire councillor Aled Hoggett said Yancoal would be foolish to ignore the PAC review and not consider some of its recommendations.
“The PAC suggested that many of the company’s claims of economic benefit ‘…have not been substantiated’,” Cr Hoggett said.
“The report describes how Yancoal’s economic assessment is likely to have seriously overstated the benefits of the mine extension to the local, State and national economies.
“Significantly, this is the first assessment in NSW to be made under the State government’s new rules.
“These rules give special prominence to economic benefits. Even with a positive economic bias, the PAC concluded ‘…the merits of the project are too finely balanced for evaluation’.”
Barrington Gloucester Stroud Preservation Alliance spokesman Graeme Healy also welcomed the review.
“While we are disappointed the PAC has not ruled out a return to 24-hour mining operations, a close reading of the report suggests it has serious doubts about Yancoal’s ability to achieve compliance with operating restrictions to mitigate noise impacts on neighbouring residents,” he said.
“The subtext of this review is extremely critical of the performance of the Department of Planning which, until now, has simply regarded each coal resource as ‘significant’ and been willing to approve projects on the basis of wildly exaggerated benefits while ignoring or seriously understating impacts on local communities.”