Leaked document shows T4 coal port assessment a sham, NSW planning system deeply flawed

Approval documents complete with consent conditions for the proposed 4th coal terminal in Newcastle (T4) have been leaked from the NSW Planning Department well before the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) has even been convened to assess the project.

“This leaked approval report casts doubt over the entire PAC system. For the T4 project the commission appears to be nothing more than a rubber stamp,” said Hunter Community Environment Centre spokesperson Dr John Mackenzie.

“Premier Barry O’Farrell pledged to deliver a planning system that was transparent, rigorous and above corruption.

“We now have the opposite - an opaque, arbitrary system that excludes the community from meaningful input.”

The Hunter Community Environment Centre has received a leaked Conditions of Approval report for the controversial proposed fourth coal terminal in Newcastle (T4).

The report, prepared by the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure, has been written before the Planning Assessment Commission has even been convened to assess T4 or has begun the deliberations, public hearings and assessment of evidence that were expected later this year.

“How can the community have faith in the planning system for coal projects in NSW?” Dr Mackenzie said.

“After all of the corruption revelations exposed through ICAC, we now have evidence that the assessment process is just an approval process.”

Newcastle residents and community groups have been preparing for the PAC for almost two years.

More than 1,000 groups and individuals made submissions expressing opposition to the terminal and 150 participated in the T4 People’s Commission in October 2013 to rehearse their presentations to the PAC’s public hearings.

The NSW planning system requires the Department of Planning to provide advice for Commissioners, however the department has prepared a 28-page approval document, ready for signing, with detailed conditions of consent.

“How can the community have any faith that fair and objective decisions are being made by the PAC when they are being given pre-written approvals by the department?" Nature Conservation Council Campaigns Director Kate Smolski said.

“The assessment process for T4 must be suspended until the NSW Government can guarantee a fair and evidence-based assessment process.

“Given the stench of corruption around the NSW coal industry, an independent inquiry is necessary to investigate the integrity of the approvals process for projects that have such profound impact on communities and the environment.”

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