Rio applies to speed up bid for Warkworth project

Rio Tinto has applied to the NSW Supreme Court to accelerate its bid to overturn a decision blocking the extension of its Warkworth coal project in the Hunter Valley.

It argues failure to do this would lead to ‘many hundreds of job losses’.

Rio previously slashed 40 jobs after its expansion plans of the Mount Thorley mine was thwarted in the NSW Land and Environment Court in April after residents from the town of Bulga succeeded in a campaign against the project.

Rio appealed the verdict last week, and on Monday applied to accelerate the appeals process, the SMH reports.

An affidavit filed with the original appeal said the impact of not being able to continue with the extension was that an area called Saddleback Ridge could not be mined, and that coal production would fall from 12 million tonnes a year to 10 million tonnes.

“Significant job losses are expected if economic conditions remain the same unless the mine can maintain its volume of product coal produced,” it said.

“Not being able to maintain the production level at 12 million tonnes for 2014 is likely to result in many hundreds of job losses.”

Rio Tinto warned it would review the viability of the mine in April when the NSW court overturned approval for expansion of the Mount Thorley mine.

Coal & Allied managing director Darren Yeates slammed the NSW planning system after the decision, saying it was a setback for the employees of the mine at a time when the coal industry was struggling.

Rio Tinto said the mine employs 1300 people and the extension would generate a further 150 jobs over its life.

The company and industry bodies, including the Australian Coal Association, have criticised the NSW Land and Environment Court’s decision for increasing uncertainty in the sector already facing weak pricing and a high Australian dollar.

Opponents of the mining lobby say Rio has exaggerated the job numbers the mine would create.

“These types of claims are all too common in economic assessments commissioned by the coal industry,” executive director of the Australia Institute Richard Denniss said.

Meanwhile Rio plans to almost halve the size of its London head office as it tries to cut more than $US5 billion ($4.8 billion) in costs by the end of next year.

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