A community gains access to justice
Merits appeal rights were introduced over 30 years ago as part of extensive law reform designed to improve the integrity of the planning system. They allow communities to challenge a development approval on a project’s merits, taking into account environmental, social and economic impacts.
Over recent years, community merits appeal rights have been eroded – routinely, in cases involving mining projects. EDO NSW advocates for the reinstatement of community rights to a merits appeal. It’s crucial that the people with most to lose – whose homes, businesses, communities, land, air and water quality are at risk from mines and other developments – are able to have their voices heard in Court.
Here is the Gloucester merits appeal story, as told by Julie Lyford, from the EDO NSW Annual Report 2017-2018.
Julie Lyford writes: The Gloucester community has endured much pain in recent years. We were ecstatic that we’d finally won a long battle against AGL’s coal seam gas project, but we were worn out. Which is ironic when you think about it, because we moved here for the vibrant, peaceful community, beautiful surroundings and a change in pace.
Those few months after we beat AGL were amazing. We had won our lives and community back. However, this was short lived. A fear that had lingered in the back of our minds reared its ugly head - a proposal for the Rocky Hill coal mine, just 1km from family homes. This time we were up against both Gloucester Resources Ltd and Australia’s largest coal producer, YanCoal.
However, we thought it would be okay, because EDO NSW had supported us for years with legal advice and expert evidence, leading to the Department of Planning & Environment recommendation that the project be refused. The Government was on our side for a change.
Then everything changed for the worse. The Minister for Planning had allowed Gloucester Resources to retain merits appeal rights despite routinely removing them for all objectors.
We found ourselves without an automatic right to participate in the merits appeal that would determine the fate of us all.
Fortunately EDO NSW backed us, concerned that our voice needed to be heard at this final hour. With their help, we were able to join the merits appeal to help the Department of Planning defend its refusal of the mine.
What’s happened in Gloucester reflects a deeply disturbing inequality being strongly experienced by communities across NSW. It is distressing to think what our community, who live on the lands of the Worimi and Biripi peoples, would be facing now if the EDO didn’t exist. We all feel a great peace of mind knowing that EDO NSW is there and we deeply respect the ethics, integrity and sheer hard work of all the incredible professionals who give so much of themselves to protect our future.
Julie Lyford OAM, Chair, Groundswell Gloucester
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