ANOTHER commissioner has resigned from the independent panel assessing the Vickery coal mine extension, while a record number of registered speakers has forced Tuesday’s public hearings to be delayed.
Alice Clark stood down from the Independent Planning Commission panel overseeing the Whitehaven Coal proposal, after she discovered a separate conflict of interest with a Hunter Valley mine she was also assessing.
“In the light of recent events and in the interests of the commission, I feel it is appropriate that I withdraw from the panel considering the Vickery Extension Project to ensure the focus remains on important planning matters of most concern to the community,” Ms Clark wrote in her resignation letter.
Ms Clark is the second commissioner to stand down from the panel, after Peter Duncan stood down earlier this month when he found out Whitehaven was a major sponsor of the charity Westpac Rescue Helicopter, where he is on the board of directors.
Last week, IPC said the Gunnedah public hearing would go ahead on Tuesday as planned, despite Ms Clark’s resignation. However, a “last-minute surge” in registrations took the number of speakers to 83, and the hearing was expect to take 14 hours.
The IPC decided extending the hearing to a second day in the week before Christmas was not practical, and will advertise new dates “in due course”.
“The level of interest in this matter is significant,” IPC chair Mary O’Kane said.
“It’s impractical for the commission to hear from such a large number of speakers in one day and it’s in everybody’s interests to postpone the hearing to ensure everyone has the opportunity to be heard by the panel in full.”
Ms Clark has been replaced by John Hann.
The commissioners will still meet Gunnedah and Narrabri shire councils on Wednesday, and will also carry out a site inspection and tour surrounding areas as previously planned.
Environmentalist welcome delay, criticised ‘impossible timeframe’
Lock the Gate Alliance has welcomed the Independent Planning Commission’s decision to postpone a public hearing into a large new coal mine proposed near the Namoi River at Boggabri.
Spokesperson Georgina Woods said the Planning Minister had imposed an impossible timeframe on the commission and described the planning process for major mining projects as being in disarray.
“We’re very glad the commission has made the decision to postpone the initial public hearing for the Vickery coal mine until next year, which the community has repeatedly asked them to do,” she said.
“The Planning Minister imposed an impossible 12 week deadline on the commission to complete its initial review of the mine but his department only provided its preliminary issues report to the commission two weeks before the hearing was due to take place.
“The assessment and approval of large new coal mines has a huge impact on the lives of people who live nearby and on regional communities and it does not appear that this minister and this government are taking seriously the need for this process to be orderly, objective and fair.
“It’s unfortunate that it took until the day before for the decision to be made to postpone the hearing, especially coming after the debacle last week when the commission’s public meeting about the United Wambo coal mine was postponed just two hours before the meeting was due to start due to conflicts of interest.
“The administration of planning and mining are in disarray and Ministers for Planning and Resources and Energy need to initiate a Special Commission of Inquiry into the whole process and stop considering new mining applications while that inquiry is underway.”