For three years a Chinese-owned coal company hasn't been able to start its NSW Hunter Valley project because Wendy Bowman has stood her ground and refused to sell her land.
But there are concerns an application to modify the project’s approval – which expires in 2022 – could leave Camberwell residents in a “perpetual state of uncertainty”.
The Ashton South East Open Cut coalmine situated 14kms northwest of Singleton was approved in 2015 with strict conditions including that development could not start until Ms Bowman’s property was sold or leased to applicant Yancoal.
Yancoal applied to modify its conditions with the NSW Department of Planning last year with the department in June recommending the changes to the state’s Independent Planning Commission for determination.
It held a meeting in Singleton on Thursday where community group Hunter Environment Lobby said it was concerned the changes would put pressure on Ms Bowman, who is in her 80s, to sell her land.
Environmental Defenders Office NSW solicitor Elaine Johnson, who is representing Hunter Environment Lobby, says the modification is an attempt to relax the conditions by putting an “indefinite extension” on the mine’s approval.
Under the proposed changes, Yancoal wouldn’t have to buy out local residents until it decided to actually build the mine, Ms Johnson said.
“It has the potential to create an ongoing shadow over the community … Residents can’t get out unless Yancoal decides to go ahead,” she said on Thursday.
“They would be living in a perpetual state of uncertainty.”
A Yancoal spokesman insisted no requests had been made to change the time frame of the lease approval and there were no plans to develop the mine at this time.
He said Yancoal was trying to adjust when it activates its compulsory acquisition rights so they came into effect when the project development starts.
“Given the project cannot be developed unless all properties have been acquired, it seems reasonable that any conditions traditionally activated by development should also be placed on hold,” the spokesman said in a statement on Thursday.
“(The) hearing was an opportunity for interested parties to voice their opinion on a project that is not being developed.”
Ms Bowman, a sixth-generation farmer, was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2017 for remaining firm in her stance.