Rio Tinto’s Warkworth appeal backed by government

The NSW state government has backed Rio Tinto in its appeal to overturn a decision blocking the expansion of its Warkworth coal project in the Hunter Valley.

A spokesperson for the Department of Planning and Infrastructure said “cross appeal” documents had been lodged the NSW Court of appeal.

"The [Warkworth extension] decision . . . may have implications that are broader than this particular development, in particular for the assessment of other mining projects," the spokesman said.

Newcastle Herald reports the government appeal says chief judge of the Land and Environment Court, Brian Preston, gave insufficient weight to department reports in favour of the mine.

Documents reveal the grounds on which the government says Justice Preston "erred in law" in refusing the Warkworth extension project.

Rio Tinto subsidiary Coal & Allied also filed an amended notice of appeal, contesting more than 30 points in the original decision.

A Coal & Allied spokesman said the company had met Premier Barry O'Farrell over the decision, and confirmed it was circulating petitions in favour of the project to go to state Parliament.

Rio Tinto cut 40 jobs and warned it would review the viability of the mine after the decision to overturn the expansion was handed down last month

The company had been granted approval in 2012 to mine bushland next to the town that had been set aside as an ‘‘offset’’ a decade ago. It was to create 150 mining jobs, and extract 18 million tonnes of coal a year.

The decision to halt the expansion came after a legal challenge from the Bulga-Milbrodale Progress Association.

Justice Preston said he group’s appeal should be upheld due to “the significant, diverse biological adversity, noise and dust and social impacts of the project''.

He said the impacts ''would exacerbate the sense of loss of place, and materially and adversely change the sense of community of the residents of Bulga and the surrounding countryside”.

A spokesperson for the Bulga-Milbrodale Progress Association said the group is disappointed the government is backing Rio's appeal.

"When they didn't file notice of appeal immediately we were starting to hope that maybe they didn't agree with Coal & Allied but obviously now that's not the case.”

Rio Tinto has slammed the decision to overturn the expansion.

''The overturning of the decision followed a rigorous 3½-year government process, and the granting of approval by both state and Commonwealth environment departments,” Coal & Allied managing director Darren Yeates said.

“Unless this decision is overturned, it sets a precedent that puts major projects in mining, public infrastructure and a range of industries at risk.

"It means the decisions of the Planning Minister, the independent Planning Assessment Commission and the government departments charged with assessing whether projects should be approved can simply be overruled at the end of the process."

The appeal is set down for hearing from July 30.


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