The decision to approve an open cut coal mine only a few hundred metres from the village of Camberwell in the Hunter Valley reveals fundamental failures in the NSW planning system, the NSW Nature Conservation Council said today.
“Less than a year after rejecting the coal project, the planning commission has chosen to ignore community health concerns and the opposition of health experts and give it the go ahead. This is a dark day for the Hunter Valley and an outrageous failure of the planning system to protect public health and the environment,” NCC Executive Director Pepe Clarke said.
Ashton Coal’s $83 million open cut coal project at Camberwell has been approved less than a year after the Planning Assessment Commission rejected it because of community health and environment concerns.
The Department of Health continues to oppose the project because of the potential health impacts from poor air quality. The NSW Office of Water, which was previously opposed to the project, has completed reversed its position, admitting to ‘‘strongly divided opinions’’ within the office on the project’s potential risks.
“The NSW Government made an election promise to reinstate the voice of the community at the centre of planning decisions, but despite overwhelming local opposition to the proposed mine, as well as serious concerns from health officials, the huge coal mining project has been given the green light,” Mr Clarke said.
The Ashton coal project has been one of the most controversial mining projects in NSW and the planning commission's 23-page report reveals that NSW Health remains opposed to any approval, arguing that Camberwell residents are already living with too much fine dust, Mr Clarke said.
The NSW Office of Water, which opposed the mine in December last year, has changed its "formal advice" to the planning commissioners. The planning commission concedes in its determination on the mine that the water office's "complete reversal of opposition" is a "vexed issue", especially when "this change does not appear to rest on [the] supply of new or additional data" from Ashton.
The Planning Assessment Commission's determination is available here.