Ashton mine gets the go ahead

After being rejected last year amid fears of health and water safety, Ashton Coal’s Camberwell mine in the Hunter Valley has had a revised application approved by the NSW Planning Assessment Commission.

Less than a year after the commission refused the open cut mine citing ‘uncertainty concerning potential impacts on water quality..and also concerns over potential health impacts of dust in Camberwell’ the project has been given the go ahead.

The NSW Department of Planning had twice rejected the mine's approval before the Commission also knocked it back.

However the Land and Environment Court has since ruled that Commission's judgment "is void and of no effect".

The court believed that the Commission had not considered supplementary information from the Department regarding the project, which was provided only three hours after it was rejected in 2011.

In a new 23-page report detailing their findings, the commission said it was satisfied that Ashton Coal had ‘made substantial changes to the project to address concerns raised in the earlier determination report.’

The decision to allow the project to proceed has been criticised by those who see the mining industry as having too great an influence over the government and its bureaucrats while not doing enough to protect the community or environment.

The report states that the mine’s "potential benefits and disbenefits” are “finely balanced” describing the mine as ‘very small’ and stating that its 16.5 million tonnes of production over seven years is a ‘negligible’ contribution to coal production in NSW.

The controversial approval is unlikely to ease community concerns about the potential health impacts of the mine. The proximity of the mine to nearby Glennies Creek, air pollution, noise and loss or risk to land were all concerns raised by the Hunter Environment Lobby Group last year.

The report itself states that NSW health is still opposed to the mine’s approval.

In May, NSW Health said that there ‘is no safe level of particle matter’ and that Camberwell residents were already being subjected to too much dust in the air.  However, the commission says it is satisfied that the proposal ‘does not appear to create a significantly increased risk,’ stating that figures released by Ashton show ‘the direction of prevailing wind is not in alignment with the mine-village axis.’

Critics of the project say that the commission has bowed to political pressure and that given the project’s history, an appeal against the decision was more than likely.

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