THE expansion of the Mount Thorley Warkworth mine near the village of Bulga can be approved, subject to six conditions, a review of the Planning Assement Commission has found.
In a report released on Thursday, the commission recommended tighter noise and air-quality management measures and stricter management of the huge ‘‘final void’’ or hole that will remain when the mine is finished, including that vegetation screening and other visual mitigation measures be put in place in a ‘‘timely manner’’.
It is the second review of the controversial project that the commission has conducted.
It initially recommended 22 conditions be placed on the project’s approval.
But Planning minister Rob Stokes requested a second review in August, to consider the effects of the government’s interim change to the state environmental planning policy for mining.
The policy now says the social, environmental and economic impacts of the project must be equally weighed up.
In its report, the commission said it had ‘‘carefully considered’’ the impacts of the policy change, and balanced the key areas of concern.
‘‘The commission is satisfied that the project’s benefits as currently understood outweigh its potentila impacts, and that on balance the project is approvable,’’ it said.
The mine’s owner, Rio Tinto, has said the expansion’s approval is crucial to ensure it can retain 1300 jobs at the mine, but Bulga villagers fear it will destroy their quality of life.
Mount Thorley Warkworth general manager Mark Rodgers hailed the decision on Thursday, arguing the decision to let the mine’s application go to the final determination stage offered certainty in the Hunter.
“Today’s recommendation from the NSW Planning Assessment Commission provides a great sense of hope for the 1300 people who work at the mine and for the hundreds of Hunter Valley businesses and community groups it supportsm," Mr Rodgers said.
“We will thoroughly review the Planning Assessment Commission’s report over the coming days and assess the detail of the findings.
“Mount Thorley Warkworth has been a member of the Singleton community for more than 30 years and if our applications to continue mining are approved it will continue to provide benefits well into the future.”
In its second report on the application, the Planning Assessment Commission found the majority of the 22 recommendations it made in its first report had been addressed.
"The Commission is satisfied that the project’s benefits as currently understood outweigh its potential impacts, and that on balance the project is approvable," the report states.
Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association president John Krey said the decision was "tribute to the iron grip the mining industry still has over the NSW government".
"This is a joke, but we're not laughing," Mr Krey said.
"Thousands of people have pledged to stand with us to continue our struggle to save Bulga.
"We will now consider the options available to us, using every peaceful means available.
"This battle to save our township of Bulga is not over yet."