Gloucester Resources Limited v Minister for Planning & Groundswell Gloucester Inc
Groundswell Gloucester, represented by EDO NSW, was joined to proceedings that would determine the fate of the Rocky Hill Coal project, a greenfield open cut coal mine at Gloucester, in a beautiful valley near Barrington Tops in the upper Hunter.
Our client was permitted by the Court to present expert evidence on climate change and the social impacts of this new mine. This was the first time an Australian court heard expert evidence about the urgent need to stay within the global carbon budget in the context of a proposed new coal mine. The Court also heard anthropological evidence about the social impact of mining on the community.
The hearing ran over three weeks in August 2018. Judgment was handed down on 8 February 2019.
Background to the case
In December 2017, the then Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) refused consent to the Rocky Hill Coal Project proposed by Gloucester Resources Limited (GRL). The PAC found that the Project was not in the public interest because of its proximity to the town of Gloucester, significant visual impact and direct contravention of the area’s zoning plans.
The PAC also refused consent to a Modification of the consent for the nearby Stratford mine (operated by Stratford Coal Pty Limited (SCPL), a related company of Yancoal Australia Limited) that proposed the receipt, processing and railing of coal from the Project. The PAC found that the Modification would have no critical purpose or utility outside the Project.
Subsequently, GRL and SCPL appealed the refusal of consent to the Land and Environment Court. Our client, Groundswell Gloucester, sought to be joined to the proceedings.
Groundswell Gloucester is a non-profit community group formed by a group of Gloucester residents concerned with the environmental, social and economic future of the Stroud Gloucester Valley. Groundswell Gloucester strongly opposed development of the Project.
On 23 April 2018, the Land and Environment Court ordered that Groundswell Gloucester be joined to the proceedings brought by GRL. Groundswell Gloucester would now be allowed to bring in experts to present evidence on the mine’s detrimental impact on climate change and on the social fabric of Gloucester. In relation to the climate change ground, on joining Groundswell Gloucester, the Court noted that:
“GRL submits that the raising of the climate issue as proposed in a domestic Court if the Intervener were joined would not serve the purpose of improving this particular planning decision; and, instead, would be a “side show and a distraction”. I do not agree.”
The case was heard in August 2018, with evidence from expert witnesses on visual and noise impacts, climate science and energy finance, the economics of coal, town planning and the social impacts of a mine on the town’s doorstep.
The court heard from Emeritus Professor Will Steffen, who gave evidence on climate change science and the carbon budget; energy analyst Tim Buckley on the risk that the coal mine would become a stranded asset, given market trends away from coal; acoustics expert Stephen Gauld on the noise nuisance from the mine; and anthropologist and expert on regional communities and displacement Hedda Askland on the social impacts should the mine go ahead.
Sixty community objectors, including farmers, doctors, Traditional Owners, old people and young people, gave evidence. Some were opposed because of noise impacts, others worried about how the mine might tear at the fabric of their community. Many were concerned about the kind of world their children and grandchildren will live in if projects like this, which contribute to climate change, continue to be approved.
In closing, Counsel Robert White for Groundswell Gloucester concluded:
“We say, your Honour, that the settled evidence before this Court is based on the scientific consensus that the urgent need is for greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced rapidly around the world, and in this country, to the fullest extent possible if the world is to have any chance to meeting the well below 2 degrees Celsius target enshrined in Paris. We submit, your Honour, that GRL has been unable to prove through its evidence in this case that the approval of the mine will reduce carbon dioxide emissions, not increase them.”
Matt Floro, solicitor for EDO NSW, has carriage of this matter for Groundswell Gloucester and our Principal Solicitor is the solicitor on record.
We are grateful to barrister Robert White for his assistance in this matter.
- Judgment: Landmark legal win for climate and community
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- Coal miners derided climate action 'sideshow'. Now it's the main event.
- The win to stop the Rocky Hill coalmine happened in the right place and at just the right time
- A community gains access to justice
- Gloucester hearing begins
- Court decision joining Groundswell Gloucester to the proceedings
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