More than 13,500 jobs and $3.7 billion in economic output could be generated in the Upper Hunter from post-mining rehabilitation and sustainable land use over the next two decades, a new report suggests.
Seventeen mines are scheduled to close over the next 20 years resulting in the release 130,000 hectares of land.
The EY Consulting report, Diversification and growth: transforming mining land in Hunter Valley, commissioned by Lock the Gate, models three scenarios for this land: the status quo, where mining companies rehabilitate based on their existing approvals; a "maximum conservation scenario", where the extensive buffer lands are restored for biodiversity and/or used for farming; and a "renewable energy precincts scenario" which combines biodiversity restoration with clean industrial development on selected areas of already heavily disturbed former mine sites.
The authors estimate that under scenarios 2 and 3, regional economic activity could increase by around $105 million or $3.6 billion respectively on top of the current trajectory of $95 million for the Hunter.
Both development scenarios also generate substantial job growth. Scenario 3, which involves investment into renewable industries, could increase annual employment by an additional 13,300 full time jobs. Key areas for new industry growth include forestry, livestock, manufacturing, electricity and green hydrogen.
The modelling shows that employment in these industries would ramp up between 2027 and 2041, when several large mine closures are expected.
Lock the Gate Alliance National Coordinator Georgina Woods called on the state and federal governments to establish a Hunter Valley Transition Authority to ensure the region's post-mining future achieved its maximum potential.
"These findings provide a road map for the NSW Perrottet Government to work with the Hunter community on the path to decarbonisation. We also need the new Albanese Federal Government to work together with New South Wales to establish a Hunter Valley Authority that can seize the opportunity to turn the challenges facing the Hunter into thousands of jobs alongside thriving agriculture and biodiversity," she said.
Hunter Jobs Alliance coordinator Warrick Jordan said few places on the planet had the level of expertise the Upper Hunter has in land rehabilitation.
"We should be leaning on that experience to do something really special here. If we can put some of the landscape and the bush back together it'll be something the community could be very proud of, and a model for other places," he said.
"A lot is made of the Hunter's land assets and infrastructure being able to attract new employers, but to really test out the possibilities there needs to be some actual land that investors can access. It should be possible to open up some of these areas in a planned way as some of the mine sites roll off over time. That type of predictability would be a big plus. Despite a long term discussion about this for whatever reason we haven't nailed it so far, but it's pretty critical for the region's future, and it looks there is momentum in a number of quarters."
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