THE NSW Planning Department's decision to recommend Whitehaven Coal's Vickery Extension Project be approved has been slammed by local activists.
The determination is now in the hands of the Independent Planning Commission (IPC).
Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said the department's decision was an outrage and the project posed serious threats to water sources.
"Coal mining is already competing with agriculture for water in this district and building another huge coal mine there will be a big mistake," Ms Woods said.
"We're shocked that the department thinks this new coal mine should be approved even while admitting that in dry times there won't be enough water in the Namoi district to supply it.
"It's bitterly disappointing the planning department has ignored advice on the water contamination risks from the plan to put polluting coal mine spoil atop a critical local aquifer."
If the $700 million project is approved by the IPC, it's expected to generate 450 ongoing jobs and 500 construction jobs, as well as a net benefit of $1.16 billion to the state.
Whitehaven Coal CEO Paul Flynn said he was looking forward to the next round of public hearings and consultation.
"Vickery has the potential to be one of the most significant sources of employment and investment in North West NSW in the coming years, and major infrastructure projects have a key role to play in the post-COVID-19 economic recovery, including for regional Australia," Mr Flynn said.
"We know there is strong support for Vickery from the comprehensive community consultation process that has already been undertaken - 60 per cent of public submissions to the department of planning and 75 per cent to the IPC called for the project to be approved."
The department recommended the project was "approvable" and pushed the application to the IPC.
The move comes after Whitehaven Coal submitted an amended application for the project in September last year.
Lock the Gate argued locals concerns, as well as Narrabri council's concerns, had been ignored.
Council voted last year to pull its support for the project because of grossly inflated job figures and overinflated social and economic impacts, which it did not believe would materialise for Boggabri.
It then passed a separate motion this year to write to the IPC and the government because it did not believe its concerns had been addressed by Whitehaven.
On Wednesday, Whitehaven said it employed a 2,400-strong workforce - about 75 per cent who are locals - and the extension would create hundreds more jobs.
The company said the Vickery extension would see about $271 million flow in wage payments into local enconomies, as well as generating about 170 added jobs for local suppliers.
Whitehaven said the extension of the already approved mine will predominantly produce metallurgical coal for steel-making, with the balance being high quality thermal coal destined for export.
The report from the department will now be considered by the IPC, who will hold a further public hearing in the coming weeks.
The department has given the IPC permission to hold a digital hearing due to social distancing restrictions.
The IPC must make a final determination on the project within 12 weeks.