Singleton and Lake Macquarie councils have asked a federal jobs inquiry to help unlock mining's grip on Hunter land

Lake Macquarie Council has identified several former mining areas on the lake's west to reduce the cost of delivering new housing, while Singleton Council has told a federal inquiry its ability to transition from coal and a "single engine economy" relies in part on loosening mining industry control over large parts of the shire to stimulate non-mining jobs.

"Mining buffer lands and remediated mining lands present a large opportunity for agribusiness expansion, however miners are not willing to risk mining approvals to allow development on these sites," Singleton Council general manager Jason Linnane said in a submission to a federal parliamentary inquiry on regional jobs.

The council has asked for government support to influence the post-mining use of land so that mining companies plan for future "highest and best use" of rehabilitated and buffer land, in consultation with council, the NSW Government and the community.

Singleton shire's dependence on mining for 64 per cent of its gross regional product, and 41 per cent of its jobs, left it vulnerable to shocks and sudden shifts in the industry, and the shire had to prepare for them, Mr Linnane told the inquiry.

Lake Macquarie Council also acknowledged the need to diversify from coal and plan for the future in a submission noting mining and manufacturing's contribution to the city's total economic output dropped from 37 per cent in 2013 to 20 per cent by 2017.

"The changes to mining and manufacturing in our city is affecting our economic base, and if we don't support the diversification of our economy, we risk impacting our communities and the future prospects of being able to live and work within our progressive city," the council said.

Significant: Mining companies control large tracts of Hunter land that Singleton and Lake Macquarie councils say could be put to better economic use.

 Significant: Mining companies control large tracts of Hunter land that Singleton and Lake Macquarie councils say could be put to better economic use.

Land availability is a key obstacle to the city's ability to manage its economic development and explore opportunities, the council told the federal inquiry.

Under a "high growth scenario", where Lake Macquarie's population jumps from 206,000 in 2016 to 379,000 by 2050, the city will need 76,000 new home lots over 5000 hectares (50 square kilometres), and nearly 900 hectares of land for future employment needs, the council said.

But council identified only 16,760 potentially available lots over the next two decades because of land availability, infrastructure provision and environmental constraints, leading to only a "bare equivalence" in the supply and demand for housing lots, council chief executive Morven Cameron said.

"An issue to consider is the need for a supply buffer to moderate lot prices. Without it, competition is limited and landowners can hold out for higher prices," the council said in its 2018 Imagine Lake Mac report submitted to the federal inquiry.

The 30-year land-use planning strategy "actively seeks to increase economic activity, population and housing supply".

The council called for federal and state government support to "explore opportunities for the adaptive re-use of ex-mining land", to build on the "positive legacy of coal mining in our city" in the past, the council said.

"There are several existing mine sites within Lake Macquarie City that would be well suited to commercial and residential development, as opposed to what is required of the mine's original mine closure plan," the federal inquiry was told.

The council declined to identify the sites but a spokesperson said they were "non-operational", and on the west of Lake Macquarie.

Expanses: The view over mine-owned land near Muswellbrook. Picture: Glen McCurtayne.

 Expanses: The view over mine-owned land near Muswellbrook. Picture: Glen McCurtayne.

"Using these sites would greatly reduce the cost of delivering new housing, including costs associated with supporting infrastructure, when compared to new greenfield developments on the fringes of the city.

"We have a vision for ex-mining land to be repurposed to support the same, if not greater, economic output achieved from the mine site during the peak of its operations."

The council cited the recently approved BlackRock Motor Park on the former Rio Tinto Rhondda Colliery at Wakefield as "a demonstration of the potential economic outputs ex-mining land can deliver".

The project "has the economic potential of $357 million with 461 jobs during construction and $129 million and 229 jobs annually", the council told the federal inquiry.

It said there was a need for the council to "engage and collaborate" with the mining and power generation industries to "transition and evolve into knowledge-based industries".

"With the significant scaling down of the mining and power generation industries in the region reflecting the end of the asset lives of the mines and plants in 10 to 15 years, there is a need to consider the potential to transfer capital and jobs to alternative 'new economy' industry sectors," the council told the inquiry.

"This may include the transition away from 'old economy' forms of mining and power generation into renewable energy industries. Logically this should be tackled at the regional level, although there is a potential for locally focussed 'sub-strategies'."

Singleton Council repeated calls for a Hunter transition authority, and said uncertainty and conflicts between mining and other industries over land use could have a "significant impact" on future investment and necessary diversification from mining.

The council called for the Hunter to have access to an annual allocation of mining royalties extracted from the region to address the economic and social issues caused by mining.

"This commitment will go a long way to ensuring our region can transition successfully," the council said.

"The region's reliance on coal mining and electricity generation means that it is important it looks to the future and considers and prepares for scenarios in which there are significant and/or sudden shifts in mining activity.

"Any decline in coal mining production will have massive impacts on the whole of the Hunter Valley, not just Singleton."

The planned closures of Liddell and Bayswater power stations in 2023 and 2035 would have a local impact, but would "also facilitate new opportunities to expand into emerging energy options by leveraging the region's infrastructure and natural advantages", the federal inquiry was told.

The NSW Minerals Council was contacted for comment.

By Joanne McCarthy, published in the Newcastle Herald 8th October 2019