The New South Wales Government has announced there will be no open-cut mining at the site formerly known as Drayton South on the outskirts of Muswellbrook in the Upper Hunter Valley.
The Government has renewed the area’s exploration licence, paving the way for Malabar Coal to commence technical studies investigating the potential to develop an underground mine.
The Australian company acquired the site from miner Anglo American in May.
The US miner’s Drayton South open-cut proposal was twice thwarted by the state’s Planning Assessment Commission due concerns about competing land uses, namely its surrounding horse studs.
Since purchasing Anglo’s majority stake, Malabar Coal has maintained that potential noise, dust and light impacts on the region’s thoroughbred farms could be mitigated by mining underground.
In addition, it relinquishing the area south of Golden Highway.
That commitment has now been written into the exploration licence and is legally binding.
Planning Minister Anthony Roberts has backed that view, stating that proposed amendments to mining and planning policies would prohibit open-cut mining on the Drayton South exploration licence no matter who owned the land.
Win for local jobs
Malabar’s proposal, known as Project Maxwell, could create up to 350 jobs if approved.
The National’s Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen said the decision to renew the exploration licence could signal a win for local jobs in both the mining and thoroughbred sectors.
“It’s exciting news because it demonstrates that planning instruments can allow underground mining in areas, such as the Drayton South site, where it was seen by the Planning Assessment Commission as incompatible land use with the neighbours,” he said.
“The neighbours, being the horse studs in particular, are a very valuable industry to the Upper Hunter and they are now protected. Their jobs are protected.
“The mining ability is protected and the opportunity for future mining jobs is assured.”
NSW Minerals Council chief executive Steve Galilee said the decision struck a balance between the mining and thoroughbred industries, and the proposal should be given the chance to proceed without interference.
“A proposed underground mine at this site would be completely different from past open-cut proposals,” he said.
“It would be invisible to local horse studs. It would involve no mining underneath any other properties.”
Agricultural interests not convinced
The Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association has slammed the move, labelling it a token gesture.
The body’s president Dr Cameron Collins said the decision to renew the exploration licence for underground mining only offered little to no compromise.
“This is basically an utter failure by the Government to support a sustainable agricultural industry and to understand the significance that land-use conflict is having on investment in our industry,” Dr Collins said.
“What we have here is an exploration licence right beside one of the most stressed water systems in the Hunter Valley.
“We will now have to go through an endless process of planning assessment again to understand this proposal.
“This just perpetuates the uncertainty that’s been going on for the last six years.”
The concerns have been echoed by the NSW coordinator for the Lock the Gate Alliance, Georgina Woods.
“This announcement falls far short of the reforms that are needed in the Hunter to restore balance between mining and other land uses,” she said.
“We’re really disappointed with this narrow and weak gesture that will condemn the farming and horse breeding industries of the Hunter Valley.”
Public submissions on the proposed planning amendments can be made until December 14.