THE Department of Planning has recommended approving the $5billion fourth coal terminal on Kooragang Island.
Although the independent Planning Assessement Commission will have the final say on the controversial project, the department’s recommendation all but ensures its ultimate passage.
Despite sustained opposition from health and environment groups over the past five years, the department said it was satisfied that strict conditions of approval would ensure that biodiversity, air quality, noise and other impacts were minimised.
It concluded the project was in the public interest and should be approved.
‘‘The department has recently increased the number of compliance officers covering Newcastle, so if the project is approved it would be closely monitored to ensure it was meeting these important conditions,’’ a department spokesman said.
Significantly, the department has gone against a previous Planning Assessment Commission recommendation that the project only be approved for five years.
Instead, the department recommends the project be approved for 10 years.
‘‘The department considers that a longer, 10-year lapse period is appropriate for large, complex projects with long lead times for approval, design and construction, such as T4,’’ the department’s recommendation says.
The project, when started, is expected to bring significant employment and investment benefits to the region, including 1500 construction jobs and 80 permanent positions.
‘‘The proposal also involves upgrading local roads, fixing up contaminated land and committing significant sums of money to protect biodiversity areas to compensate for construction impacts,’’ the department spokesman said.
The department has also recommended that Port Waratah Coal Services pay more than $528,000 in developer contributions. The company has also agreed to enter into a direct agreement with Newcastle City Council about contributions to infrastructure.
‘‘Given the limited impacts the project will have on local infrastructure funded by the council, the department’s assessment found it would be unreasonable to ask the company to pay more,’’ he said.
Hunter Community Environment Centre spokesman John Mackenzie said the recommendation highlighted a disconnect between the department’s decision-making processes and the reality of the coal industry.
‘‘It just looks like they [PWCS] are ploughing ahead to get approval for a project that the community doesn’t want and the industry doesn’t need,’’ he said. ‘‘We refer to it as the zombie project – it’s dead but it keeps on lurching through the approval process.’’
Dr Mackenzie said groups opposed to the project would be out in force at the next commission hearings: ‘‘Our opposition hasn’t gone away, it has strengthened.’’
PWCS chief executive Hennie du Plooy welcomed the department’s recommendation: “As part of the Terminal 4 engineering and environmental studies we have extensively examined the different engineering and construction options to reach an outcome that best balances the environmental, social, economic and engineering factors, and we have sought to continue to achieve this balance when responding to the PAC’s recommendations.
“Coal shipments from Newcastle’s terminals are approximately on par with this time last year, despite the challenging economic climate. This only reinforces the importance of planning for future coal export infrastructure.’’
The project will also require federal approval under the Commonwealth Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.