The owner of a district quarry has branded the NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) a disgrace after a court-sanctioned conciliation conference granted consent to his operation.
On Friday the NSW Land and Environment Court issued approval conditions for Gunlake Quarry’s expansion. It followed a conciliation conference between the company and the Department of Planning. It also came ahead of a four-day Land and Environment Court challenge by Gunlake against the PAC’s April refusal which was due to start last Monday.
The company wants to increase production from 750,000 to two million tonnes annually at its Brayton Road, Marulan facility. It proposed an average increase in trucks from 164 to 440 daily, sparking public backlash on potential road safety, noise, dust and amenity impacts.
The PAC refused the plan on the grounds it wasn’t in the public interest, that insufficient consideration had been given to the road’s upgrade or rail options and that the company had not justified why the haul route shouldn’t be upgraded to Austroad standards.
Gunlake launched an appeal in May against refusal of the $3 million project. But the matter did not make it to a full hearing after the company and the Department agreed on conditions.
The company’s managing director Ed O’Neil said he was relieved. But he also fired a salvo at the PAC.
“The PAC is a disgrace. They got it wrong and it never should have gone to appeal,” he told The Post.
”It’s clear they didn’t know what they were talking about. (Transport by) rail was never an option and everything else should else could have been conditioned.”
Mr O’Neil said he was frustrated that the PAC refused the project despite the Department of Planning recommending conditional consent earlier this year. He described them as experts in their field who knew what they were doing.
“It should not have been referred to the PAC. They didn’t know what they were doing; they were out of their depth.
“I’m very disappointed that we’ve had to go to all this time and effort. It’s been a complete waste.”
Mr O’Neil said the PAC members who refused the project “needed to be held accountable” and he would explore legal action. He argued they made a decision “based on policy, not on planning grounds.” He was partly referring to the fact they had wanted him to explore rail options, taking into account a broader State strategy for transport of quarry product.
But a spokesman for the PAC rejected the claims.
“This is a good example of how the planning system works to balance the economic, social and environmental aspects of an application for development consent,” he said.
“The Commission’s original decision was made on the information before it which (it) found to be insufficient for certain matters. One of the Commission’s key concerns in making its original decision was traffic impact, including road safety.
“Gunlake chose to exercise its right to a merits review by the Court and provided it with additional material addressing road safety concerns. An agreement was then reached which approved a development with significantly less truck movements, a commitment to carry out a major upgrade of the primary haul route and an independent review of transport options.”
The company has not achieved everything it wanted in its original bid. The current consent limits average daily truck movements to 370, not the 440 Gunlake asked. It also calls for staged truck movements as output increases. For example, the maximum 370 trucks can only be used on a secondary transport route when production exceeds 1.5m tonnes.
Other consent conditions include:
- Upgrade of the primary transport route along Brayton, Ambrose and red Hills Roads to Austroad standards;
- Construction of an acceleration lane at the Hume Highway/Red Hills Road intersection and from the quarry’s entrance onto Brayton Road;
- A 25-year, not 30-year approval, as requested;
- A review of transport options, including by rail, within 10 years and every 10 years thereafter.
Residents “let down”
Marulan district resident Ken Wray says he’s “severely disappointed” by the results of the June 14 conciliation conference between Gunlake, the Department and Goulburn Mulwaree Council.
“The members of the community, who raised the objections requiring a PAC hearing, were excluded apart from making submissions before the conciliation. In effect, the community interests were represented though the Department of Planning. Unfortunately the Department has abandoned the community,” he said.
“Agreement has now been reached with conditions and the community has been ignored.”
Mr Wray said the conditions addressed the haul route’s upgrade and its cost but did not consider the road versus rail argument or whether the project was in the public interest.
The PAC had concluded that an “accurate and genuine study” should be undertaken on the rail option. It had pointed to a Department of Transport study showing that rail was 36 per cent cheaper for the transport of bulk materials.
Mr Wray described this as a huge “missed opportunity.” He also questioned the requirement for a review of transport options within 10 years as a “sop to the community,” arguing that Gunlake’s stance that it was not feasible would again be accepted.
”If the PAC had considered the project reasonable they would have approved it with conditions, but it didn’t,” he said.
“For some unknown reason the Minister has ignored the advice of his own independent committee and the community will bear the cost.
“...The only positive part of the agreement is that the number of truck movements will be reduced from an average of 440 per day to 370 and from a maximum of 590 to 490. However as the quantity of material to be transported remains the same it must mean bigger trucks!”
Mr Wray was sceptical of the road upgrade requirement. It is to be widened to 3.1 metres and the shoulders to 1.5m. Where this is not possible the applicant has to demonstrate that the non-compliance does not result in “an unacceptable safety outcome.”
“What is an unacceptable safety outcome? Already the intersection of Red Hills Rd and Ambrose Rd is an unacceptable safety risk where numerous near misses with quarry trucks has occurred,” he said.
Mr Wray believed the consent raised more questions than it answered, including why Gunlake was permitted to take “$5.4 billion in natural resources without paying any royalties.”
“...The entire agreement is a huge disappointment and will be a major disincentive to people wishing to settle in the Marulan district. One wonders why there was a PAC inquiry if its findings have been almost totally ignored,” he said.
The consent can be read here.
The PAC’s April decision can be read here.