MIKE Baird has conceded he believes "coal is good" during a visit to the Woodlands Stud in Denman.
On the second stop on his tour of the Hunter, The Premier met with employees of the Darley and Coolmore Studs, who say an extended Drayton South mine would be "within a kilometre" of their properties.
Darley is the home of former champion race horse Octagonal, and Mr Baird posed for photographs with the Dubai-owned thoroughbred before meeting with Darley employees.
He and planning minister Rob Stokes then took a helicopter ride above the property to see the "magnitude of what's being done here".
Speaking to reporters after the ride, Mr Baird was asked whether he agreed with Prime Minister Tony Abbott's comment that coal is "good for humanity".
He didn't quite go that far. Instead saying there was "no doubt coal is good".
"It's an important part of the economy and has been for a long time and the expectation is it will be for many years going forward," he said.
"There's opportunities for coexistence here.
"Ultimately we need to make decisions in
Coolmore principal Tom Mangier said the mine was "a big worry".
""It's a concern for us ... There's been horses there since 1800 and we just want to have horses there for generations to come," he said
Earlier, Phil Harris, a farm supervisor at Darley's Woodland Stud, said he believed claims of job losses proffered by the mining industry were "a bit rich".
He lives on site, but insists he doesn't "know anything" about horses.
Instead, he works with Woodlands 800 head of cattle.
"It's like any farm," he said.
Mr Harris, whose ex-wife is a coal miner, says he understands the mining industry has a place in the Upper Hunter, but says he "doesn't understand" the economics of expanding Drayton South.
"They blame us for having to lay off workers, but they're laying off workers now and I don't think that has a lot to do with us," he said.
"They're laying off miners in Gladstone and I don't know how many horses are out there, so I think that side of it's a bit rich.
"The thing is, can we put a horse stud on a coal mine once they've finished with it?"
The NSW Minerals Council welcomed Mr Baird’s visit to two Hunter mines.
‘‘The visit allows the premier to meet some of the 1800 hard working miners whose jobs are hanging in the balance, caught up in the NSW planning system,’’ Minerals Council chief executive Stephen Galilee said. ‘‘With unemployment in the Hunter at nearly 13 per cent, it’s critical that the NSW government do everything it can to support job-generating projects in the region.’’
The Minerals Council has urged the government to adopt an assessment system based on ‘‘science, facts and evidence’’
‘‘We understand that some issues generate a lot of emotion, demonstrated by the anxiety of the 1800 workers at Drayton South and Mt Thorley Warkworth with jobs on the line. All these workers and their families want is a fair go in the assessment process.’’
Eighty five per cent of the 1891 submissions for the Mt Thorley Warkworth extension supported the project.
THE Premier, Mike Baird, has promised to end the "uncertainty" surrounding planning decisions like the Drayton South coal mine extension, and has not ruled out making changes to the Planning Assessment Commission
Mr Baird and the planning minister Rob Stokes, is on a whirlwind tour of the Upper Hunter on Tuesday, part of fulfilling a pre-election commitment to walk the talk on mining affected communities.
Mr Baird was met at the site by hundreds of workers wearing high visibility gear and hats reading "I support Drayton South".
He said he wanted "listen to concerns first hand".
"It's no longer good enough for a premier or planning minister to sit behind their desk and just read briefings," he said.
Mr Baird has conceded that any decision on Drayton South is up to the Planning Assessment Commission, which has already knocked similar expansion proposals back twice. But asked on Tuesday if he was considering changes to the PAC he said the planning minister had an "opportunity" to look at whether the planning system could be "refined".
"Everything can always be better and I think it's fair to say from a planning context that there were things that weren't done last term that we'd like to consider going forward this term," he said.
He spoke to members of the Muswellbrook and Singleton chambers of commerce, as well as local business owners, who were eager to stress the possibility of "connectivity".
But Shane Davey, head of the Singleton Chamber of Commerce, said it was a "fact" that Drayton South was not "visible" from the nearby horse studs that opposed its expansion.
He said fears of loss of the breeding industry were overblown, pointing to recent success of horses bred in he Hunter Valley.
"If that's the impact, I'm going to buy some horses and breed them in a mining put," he said.
"We want people to be involved in the community, don't pretend to be involved if you're not genuinely engaged.
"It isn't us versus them, but to them it is us versus them."