Community voice silenced in 80 per cent of development decisions

Local residents will be denied a say in 80 per cent of development decisions under sweeping planning reforms unveiled today by the state government, according to the Nature Conservation Council of NSW.

“This is the most significant backward step on public participation in more than a generation,” said Pepe Clarke, NCC Chief Executive Officer.

“Since the current planning legislationwas introduced in 1979, members of the community have had a right to comment on the large majority of development proposals.

“These critical public participation rights improve the quality of development decisions and give the community a voice on development proposals that affect their local environment and way of life.

“Prior to the state election, the Premier promised to give people a real say on issues affecting their local community. Today, the government has broken that promise, announcing that four out of five developments will be assessed with no public consultation and limited environmental assessment.”

The White Paper proposes applying a fast track ‘code assessment’ approach to a wide range of developments, including commercial buildings, apartment blocks and land sub-divisions. Local councils will not be able to refuse proposals which comply with relevant codes.

“Fast tracking these developments will compromise environmental protection outcomes and result in poor quality planning decisions.”

“The measure of an effective planning system must be its ability to foster vibrant, sustainable communities and protect important environmental values, not merely its capacity to deliver rapid approval of poorly planned development.”

“We strongly support improved strategic planning, but remain deeply concerned that new strategic planning processes will not deliver essential protection for important environmental values.”

“The commitment to introduce strict penalties for providing false and misleading information to obtain a planning approval is welcome, but should be complemented by an accreditation scheme to hold consultants and proponents accountable for poor quality environmental assessments.”

The White Paper and Exposure Bill can be downloaded from the Department’s website: www.planning.nsw.gov.au/a-new-planning-system-for-nsw

Submissions on the White Paper and Exposure Bill can be made until 28 June 2013.

Media contacts: Kate Smolski 0478 828 864, James Tremain, 0419 272 254 or 9516 0206.

Coal and coal seam gas expansion in NSW

The coal mining and coal seam gas (CSG) industries in NSW are expanding at an unprecedented rate, threatening public health, clean air and water, productive farmlands and native wildlife.

Communities in the Hunter are facing health impacts from coal dust, iconic natural areas like the Gardens of Stone and Leard State Forest are threatened by open cut coal mines, and communities in Western Sydney and Gloucester face risks of water contamination from large coal seam gas fields.

Exploration licences for coal and CSG already cover 25% of NSW and there are applications submitted for licences that cover 80% of the state.

The coal industry is pushing for a massive expansion of open-cut and underground coal mines in the Hunter, Newcastle, Gunnedah and Illawarra regions. The CSG industry in NSW is still in its infancy, but industry plans for rapid, large-scale expansion pose a serious threat to our water, farmland and natural areas.

This map allows you to see where the existing mines and gas fields are located and walks you through the location and stage of the proposed coal and gas developments.

Once you have a sense of the expansion across the eastern part of NSW, you can click on each location to learn about how you can get involved, including links to environmental assessment documents, contact details for local community groups and contact details for the local MP.

If you are concerned about this unprecedented expansion of coal mining and gas development, take action right now by emailing the O’Farrell Government to call for protection for our land, water and communities!

Mountains residents rally to protect the Gardens of Stone

The fight to save the Gardens of Stone came to the streets of Springwood today when mountains residents rallied in the town square calling on the government to protect the area from coal mining once and for all.

The rally, organized by the Blue Mountains Conservation Society, Lithgow Environment Group and Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC) was the final event in a week-long tour by senior NCC staff of iconic natural areas across the state that are being threatened by damaging coal mining and gas developments.

Garden of Stone is a complex of coloured escarpments, narrow canyons, upland swamps, rock arches and pagodas that provide habitat for many endangered plants and wildlife, including six animals listed as endangered under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act: the Regent Honeyeater, Spotted Tail Quoll, Bathurst Copper Butterfly, Brushtailed Rock-wallaby and Powerful Owl.

NCC Chief Executive Officer Pepe Clarke said even though the Planning Assessment Commission made damning findings against the proposal in December, the area was still vulnerable.

“Coalpac’s revised open-cut coal mine proposal at Cullen Bullen north of Lithgow is still a very real threat to this iconic area and must be opposed at every opportunity,” Mr Clarke said.

“The O’Farrell government now has an historic opportunity to protect this unique part of the state’s environmental heritage for future generations and to improve its poor environmental credentials by declaring it a State Conservation Area. People should not have to fight this fight – this should be protected up front.”

Eva Rizana, who spent the first 25 years of her life in Cullen Bullen said “If the Coalpac project goes ahead the residents of Cullen Bullen will be living in the middle of an open-cut coal mine for 20 years causing irreversible damage to the community.”

“I stand here speaking for the majority of residents of Cullen Bullen whose stories have been lost, we have a lot to lose from this proposal.”

Tara Cameron, vice president of Blue Mountains Conservation Society, said approval of this proposal would open the door to the “visual cancer of strip mining along the steep forested edges of the Greater Blue Mountains”.

“These long thin strips of steep and elevated lands are very difficult to rehabilitate and will become, for all time, areas of visual blight, destroying the region’s greatest tourist asset, its stunning scenery. It must be stopped,” Ms Cameron said.

“To allow open-cut mine anywhere is bad, but to ruin the Gardens of Stone would be intolerable,” Ms Cameron said.

“The government has a clear responsibility to reject the Coalpac proposal and protect the area for ever by declaring it a State Conservation Area.”

Date: April 21, 2013

Media contacts
James Tremain, media officer, NSW Nature Conservation Council, 0419 272 254
Tara Cameron, Blue Mountains Conservation Society, 0419 824 974

Rio Tinto appeals court decision on Warkworth Extension

“Residents of the village of Bulga in the Upper Hunter thought years of bullying and intimidation by mining giant Rio Tinto might have ended last week when the Land and Environment Court overturned the state government’s approval of the Warkworth Extension Coal mine,” Nature Conservation Council CEO Mr Pepe Clarke said.

“But regrettably, the Rio Tinto subsidiary Coal and Allied has today appealed the decision, ensuring that a cloud of doubt will continue to hang over the village of Bulga, surrounding farmland and the endangered Warkworth Sands Woodlands for some time to come.

“The community should never have had to fight this fight, but the state government and the planning system failed to protect the people’s rights so they had not alternative but to go to court.

“Now that the people of Bulga have won their appeal convincingly on each point, it is deeply disappointing that they will have to go back to court to argue their case again.

“All along, Rio Tinto has played fast and loose with the truth about the economic costs and benefits of this project, exaggerating the number of jobs the project would create to secure state government approval for a mining proposal that local residents clearly oppose.”

Date: April 23, 2013

Media contact: James Tremain, 0419 272 254 or 9516 0206.