The NSW Planning Assessment Commision has approved an extension of Rio Tinto’s Warkworth open cut coal mine in the Upper Hunter Valley.
The approval will allow Rio to extend its mine into land, previously proposed for expansion, but rejected by the NSW Land and Environment Court last year.
Residents of the adjacent town of Bulga fear the approval will decimate the town.
Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association president John Krey said the decision revealed flaws in the government’s recent revamped State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP).
Recent SEPP amendments require the economic resource, or output of the mine, to be significant to the State. However Mr Krey said in this case “there wasn't a single economic argument put forward."
Steve Philips from Lock the Gate says his organization will continue their work to protect the small town.
“The Government may be willing to sacrifice Bulga for the benefit of a powerful global mining corporation, but there are many in the community who are not.
“We will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Bulga residents to protect their town. Too many Hunter villages have already been lost to mining – Bulga must not be next,” he said.
However, the decision has been welcomed by NSW Minerals Council CEO, Stephen Galilee.
“This is a good decision that will enable (Rio Tinto) to maintain production at current levels for around two years,” Mr Galilee said.
He said the mine’s extension will significantly benefit the Upper Hunter region.
“This project has been operating for over thirty years, and is an economic mainstay for the region, driving “significant” local economic activity.
“In 2012, the mine spent more than $210 million on close to 280 local suppliers in the Upper Hunter Valley. This direct spending also generated significant additional economic activity right across the Hunter region.”