The court trial for the contentious Ashton coalmine in Camberwell has begun and the Land and Environment Court heard any assessment critical of the mine was rejected by the NSW Department of Planning.
The department “simply locked out” those from the Office of Water who were against the mine and altered its recommendations to “fit in with the department’s recommendation” for approval.
According to internal records acquired by the Hunter Environment Lobby on subpoena, the Department of Planning steered the Office of Water to alter its stance.
The Office of Water faced public condemnation when it did so.
Ashton Coal’s Camberwell coal mine in the Hunter Valley was rejected in 2011 over noise and dust fears and the impact the mine would have on ground water.
It was reopened last year after a court approved an appeal from the miner.
A revised application was approved by the NSW Planning Assessment Commission in October last year.
The Planning Assessment Commission reassessed and granted the Ashton project the second time but it was critical of the Office of Water’s about turn in its recommendation.
It called it a “complete reversal” and a “vexed issue” because the change did not seem to occur due to fresh information.
Senior Office of Water employees backed the department in snubbing assessing officers’ recommendation that the Ashton south-east planned open cut mine near Camberwell village could potentially harm the Hunter River.
“The evidence shows that the eight concerns of the Office of Water officers who were responsible for assessing the risks did not subside, but were simply overridden by a policy decision made by more senior officers in the Office of Water,” Hunter Environment Lobby said in a submission to Land and Environment Justice Nicola Pain.
According to the Newcastle Herald, the Planning Assessment Commission did not have access to these internal records when it reassessed the Ashton open cut mine proposal in October last year.
Justice Pain will visit the planned mine site and neighbouring properties that could be impacted.
The Hunter Environment Lobby said in it submission yesterday it was “plain on the face of the documents that following the PAC’s initial refusal, those senior officers (of Office of Water) met privately with Ashton Coal in the absence of the Office of Water’s assessing officers, and subsequently changed the Office of Water’s position to fit in with the Department (of Planning’s) recommendation”.
“We find ourselves locked in a battle to save our productive agricultural land and our water, the lifeblood of our community, with the odds stacked against us,” she said.
“The government authority designated to protect water and the state’s planning commission are siding with a foreign-owned mining giant that will ruin the land and water and take profits offshore.”
Adrian Galasso, S.C. for Ashton, said the “relatively small mine”, which would operate for only seven years could “stand on its own two feet” on environmental issues.
Although there are seven properties that potentially face voluntary acquisition due to dust and noise factors, the company “has taken significant steps to address all of the issues raised against it”, Galasso said.
Camberwell residents will give evidence at Singleton Court tomorrow.