The Independent Planning Commission has been forced to retract its approval for the controversial Rix's Creek mine near Singleton 3.5 hours after saying it had granted consent for the mine to continue operating for another 21 years.
A statement issued on the commission's website at 6pm on Friday night said its earlier determination had been made in error because the period for public comment on additional information had not lapsed.
"The stated deadline for written comments in relation to additional information from the Department of Planning, Industry & Environment (dated 24 September 2019) , which was published on the commission's website, did not lapse until 5pm today," the statement said.
The new deadline for comment on the additional information is noon October 11 2019.
The commission also promptly removed its earlier reasons for approving the mine extension from its website.
The spectacular error has left the project's supporters and opponents equally flabbergasted.
NSW Minerals Council chief executive Stephen Galilee praised the earlier decision as a victory for the estimated 300 miners who would work at the project over the next 21 years.
"The 21 year continuation will also ensure the operation continues to support local suppliers businesses, helping to boost the Hunter economy," he said.
In a follow-up statement Mr Galilee said the "shambolic turn of events" highlighted the need to urgently reform of the NSW planning system.
"It just beggars belief that the IPC could issue an approval for a major project involving 300 jobs and then be forced to withdraw the approval just hours later due to an internal stuff-up," he said.
"Three hundred people have been waiting six years to find out if their jobs were secure into the future. Today they received good news, only to have the certainty they had been hoping for taken away from them again hours later."
In their original statement of reasons the commissioners concluded the application was in the public interest because, among other things:
- is existing brownfield site, with existing operational mining infrastructure
- noise and vibration impacts have been adequately assessed" and "appropriate mitigation, management measures and accelerated noise attenuation are proposed
- air quality has been adequately assessed and found to be aligned with contemporary best practice for NSW coal mines
- greenhouse gas emissions have been adequately minimised as far as practicable and within the capability of the applicant's control.
- biodiversity offsets have been quantified and a staged offset strategy identified to retire the necessary biodiversity offsets for the application
In their revised statement the commissioner's said they would not be providing further comment about the matter
Rix's Creek mine will continue operating until 2040 following IPC approval
Earlier report: Rix's Creek coal mine near Singleton will continue operating for another 21 years after the Independent Planning Commission approved a controversial extension on Friday afternoon.
Bloomfield Collieries lodged a state significant development application to expand its Rix's Creek south mine and continue open cut mining operations there until 2040.
It is estimated an additional 25-million tonnes of coal, worth more than $104 million in royalties, will be recovered from the mine over that period.
It will also employ an estimated 255 full time workers and 44 full time equivalent contractors. The value of wages would be $21 million annually
Issues including air quality, water, biodiversity, final landform and rehabilitation, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, noise impacts and economic and social benefits dominated a public meeting at Singleton in July.
Singleton GP Bob Vickers was among those who urged the commissioners to look beyond the project's economic benefits and consider the community health impacts of mining.
"The minimum net profit value of this mine covers approximately one tenth of the calculated health costs that air pollution costs the Hunter," he said at the meeting.
But in its statement of reasons the commissioners concluded the application was in the public interest because, among other things:
- it is "in respect of an existing brownfield site, with existing operational mining infrastructure"
- "noise and vibration impacts have been adequately assessed" and "appropriate mitigation, management measures and accelerated noise attenuation are proposed"
- "air quality has been adequately assessed and found by the Department to be aligned with contemporary best practice for NSW coal mines, and improvements should continue to be pursued over time"
- "Greenhouse gas emissions have been adequately minimised as far as practicable and within the capability of the Applicant's control... Conditions of consent have been included to require the Applicant to take all reasonable steps to improve energy efficiency and to reduce the Application's greenhouse gas emissions over the life of the Application"
- "biodiversity offsets have been quantified and a staged offset strategy identified to retire the necessary biodiversity offsets for the Application"
- "biodiversity impacts have been appropriately assessed and can be managed through conditions of consent"
- "water resources have been appropriately addressed and conditions of consent proposed to ensure impacts are appropriately managed and mitigated"
- "rehabilitation and risk of early closure has been appropriately assessed... The requirement for a Rehabilitation Strategy and Rehabilitation Management Plan, updated every three years, and risks of unplanned closure incorporated into risk assessments provides assurance that the Applicant's closure arrangements will consider unplanned closure and have regard for the Council's strategic planning and community expectations given the close proximity of the Application to the Singleton Township"
- "visual impacts are appropriately assessed and considered to be relatively minor overall"
- "heritage impacts have been assessed and would be appropriately managed through conditions of consent"
- "blasting impacts have been adequately assessed and would be appropriately managed"
- "traffic impacts have been adequately assessed and would be appropriately managed"
- "social and economic impacts have been adequately assessed appropriately managed, consistent with the guidelines for the economic assessment of mining and coal seam gas proposals... The Application would generate significant economic and social benefits as a result of employment opportunities and revenue to the State. A planning agreement would be entered into by the Applicant and [Singleton Shire] Council which would provide further benefits locally", and
- "the Applicant has adequately addressed the recommendations in the Commission's Review Report"
"We welcome this approval and the job security this will bring to more than 300 hard working miners. The 21 year continuation will also ensure the operation continues to support local suppliers businesses, helping to boost the Hunter economy. However, the extremely long assessment process for an extension to an existing mining operation highlights once again why the NSW planning system needs urgent reform," he said.
"This project isn't even a new mining operation but an extension of an existing mine - yet it's taken almost six years to get an approval, including four years of assessment processes involving the Department and Planning and the IPC. This is an unacceptable time frame caused by duplication, inconsistency and uncertainty within a complicated planning system that is acting as a deterrent to investment in NSW.
"The proponent even had to lodge an interim short-term application for a nine month extension of the existing operation because the overall assessment process was taking too long and placing the existing operation and jobs in jeopardy."