Drayton South proposed open-cut mine rejected for the fourth time

END OF THE LINE: A symbolic display of miners' clothing in late 2015 in support of the Drayton South open-cut coal project, which has again been rejected by the Planning Assessment Commission. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.
END OF THE LINE: A symbolic display of miners' clothing in late 2015 in support of the Drayton South open-cut coal project, which has again been rejected by the Planning Assessment Commission. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.

THE horse industry says the sort of legislation that permanently banned the proposed Bickham coalmine near Scone is needed to stop the Drayton South proposal once and for all.

The NSW Planning Assessment Commission issued its latest formal refusal of the Drayton South project on Thursday, saying that after weighing up the merits of the mine and the nearby horse studs it found that Anglo American’s application was not in the public interest.

Environmentalists cheered the result, saying it was the fourth time the mine had been rejected, in the form of two PAC refusals, and two reviews of those refusals.

Anglo American said it would not comment before fully reading the decision but with only a small crew doing rehabilitation work at the original Drayton open-cut since it closed late last year, the future of the site is looking grim from a mining perspective.

Dr Cameron Collins of the Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association said the Upper Hunter community had been through “years of assessment” on Drayton South, and that enough was enough.

But he said that unless the NSW government enacted a site-specific State Environmental Planning Policy or SEPP of the type that it did to stop the Bickham proposed open-cut near Scone in 2010, there would be nothing to stop Anglo or a future owner lodging another application for Drayton South.

“The Government, with a stroke of a pen, can end the uncertainty by putting a SEPP on this on this site to prohibit future mining,” Dr Collins said on Thursday.

In its report on the Drayton South application, the PAC members said the mine would employ up to 500 people a year, provide $355,000 a year to Muswellbrook Shire Council, $233 million over the life of the mine in state royalties and $93 million in company tax.

Although the NSW Department of Planning and Environment supported the project, the PAC said there would be a decline in the thoroughbred industry cluster in the area – led by Coolmore and Godolphin studs –  together with a “less diversified and less sustainable economy in the Hunter Valley” if the project went ahead.

It did not accept the company and department view that the mine would have no negative impacts on the “operations and reputations” of the two big studs, saying dust and blast noise would be likely to “adversely affect” their operations.

Mining and horses were “co-existing . . . at this current point in time” but “the proximity of the project . . . would tip this relationship out of balance to the detriment and ultimate decline” of the Hunter equine industry.