Councils push to loosen mining industry's grip on Hunter land

HUNTER councils have called for federal and state government support to unlock mining land across the region for residential and commercial development.


HISTORY: Empty coal train carriages travel past Liddell coal-fired power station. Hunter councils have argued for the mining's grip on large tracts of land to be loosened to help the region diversify from coal. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

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 asked for government support to influence post-mining land use 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 acknowledged the need to plan for the future, noting mining and manufacturing's contribution to the city's economic output dropped from 37 per cent in 2013 to 20 per cent in 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," Lake Macquarie council told the federal inquiry.

Land availability is an obstacle to the city's ability to manage its economic development and explore opportunities, the council said.

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 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.

"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 an example of the potential of ex-mining land. The project had the potential of generating "$357 million with 461 jobs during construction and $129 million and 229 jobs annually", the federal inquiry was told.

Singleton council repeated calls for a Hunter transition authority.


Joanne McCarthy, Newcastle Herald