Law changes could shape future of Mandalong plan

Members of the public at the hearing on Tuesday night. Picture: Max Mason-HubersCHANGES to state environmental laws could impact on whether the Planning Assessment Commission approves a controversial coal mine extension in Lake Macquarie.

In April the Newcastle Herald reported the commission had recommended approval for Centennial Coal’s Mandalong southern extension project.

The extension would allow Centennial to extract up to 12 million tonnes of thermal coal for 25 years at the existing rate of a million tonnes a year.

At the time the commission said it had ‘‘carefully weighed the areas of concern … against the significance of the resource and the socio-economic benefits’’ and found that ‘‘the project’s benefits outweigh its potential impacts and on balance should be approved’’.

However, on Tuesday the commission’s chair Gordon Kirkby said it would consider the state government’s proposed amendment to the State Environmental Planning Policy that would scrap a controversial provision that made the significance of the resource ‘‘the principal consideration’’ when determining projects.

‘‘The aim of the draft amendment is to provide a balanced framework,’’ he said.

‘‘Whilst the application was lodged before the proposed amendment was announced, the commission is required to consider this in its determination of the application.’’

Mr Kirkby made the comments at a public hearing on Tuesday night, the second on the project. More than a dozen residents and community representatives who oppose the extension addressed the hearing.

In July the Herald reported that a University of Western Sydney report had alleged the existing mine was ‘‘causing water pollution that is not authorised by the ‘‘Environmental Protection Authority’’.

The EPA said it was aware of the problem and had imposed a pollution reduction program on the mine.

Mark Marossezeky from the Mandalong Community Association said that while the discharge continued outside EPA approvals an extension was ‘‘not acceptable to the community’’.

Mandalong Mine manager John Turner also addressed the hearing, he said the mine completed the reduction program in 2013 and handed over to the EPA.