SINGLETON’S massive drive-in, drive-out coal industry workforce is contributing to substantial social stresses, including family breakdowns, mental health issues, domestic violence and alcohol related crime.
It is also placing unsustainable pressure on infrastructure, particularly urban and rural roads, increasing motor vehicle crashes and helping push up living and housing costs.
These points have been highlighted in a Singleton Council submission prepared for a federal government inquiry into fly-in fly-out, drive-in drive-out workforce impacts on regional communities.
Singleton councillors are expected to accept a recommendation by general manager Lindy Hyam at their regular meeting on Monday to support the submission.
Mrs Hyam told The Argus yesterday that as last year’s national census figures would not be available until later this year the submission had to rely on some information that was six years old.
“We used the latest figures we could find, but because some of them are several years old the situation today is significantly different,” she said.
“The traffic, for instance is significantly worse than in 2006 and that’s supported by recent road audits that show some, Glendon Road for instance, has had a 96 per cent increase in the last 10 years.
“A lot has been said about infrastructure impacts and too little has been said about social impacts, I know they’re difficult to quantify, but they need to be recognised and taken into account as the industry expands.”
The submission says the Hunter Valley is the state’s largest coal producing area, with almost 70million tonnes coming from 16 Singleton pits in the 12 months to the end of June 2009.
Most of the job growth due to its expansion has been in the “mobile workforce” area.
Mrs Hyam said she knew of miners travelling from as far away as the Central Coast and she believed more would be on the roads and may even come from further afield when the F3 freeway to Branxton was opened next year.
In 2006, when Singleton shire’s total working population was around 12,300, about half worked in coalmining or related jobs, and half that number drove in and out each day.
The submission added that as coalmine commuters numbered about 1600 then, the figure would be “considerably higher” these days.
Mrs Hyam said this, and other commuter figures, were only indicators as representatives of some pits said as much as 80 per cent of their workforce was “local” while others had only 20 per cent.
“We need to look at the understanding of ‘local’, does that mean this local government area or a wider area?” Mrs Hyam said.
The submission said: “Independent reports related to drive-in drive-out have identified health issues such as increased stress levels and conditions, including depression, excess drinking, obesity and recreational drug use and car accidents resulting from fatigue symptoms.”
The submission noted that the process to consider mine expansion applications did not adequately address broader community benefits that should be provided to offset the economic, social and environmental impacts of mining.
“An economic assessment of the local socio-economic impacts should be carried out as an essential element of the proposal,” the submission said.
“This is necessary to establish the net cost of mining to the community.”
Singleton also suffered a critical permanent and temporary accommodation shortage, primarily because of the mining boom, and current estimates indicated a need for 300 more homes every year.
A lack of affordable housing was increasingly contributing to homelessness, motels, hotels and caravan parks operating at capacity and few opportunities to accommodate people for tourism, conferences and “normal business”.
Some coalmine workers, doing different shifts were sharing beds and some were forced to live in their vehicles.
Cost of living impacts were also evident in the price of houses. The submission said that Hunter Valley Research Foundation statistics showed a home costing $364,000 in Singleton would cost about $245,000 in Cessnock and $290,000 in Muswellbrook.
The submission concluded by saying: Health issues, particularly asthma had resulted in an increased use of health services and mental health services were also highly used in the area.
Contributing factors included financial stress and the stress caused by shift work and long hours, which put pressure on relationships and families.
The mining industry was also contributing to Singleton having more of a transient population, social isolation, challenges in connecting with new people coming into the community and domestic violence was also an issue along with increased alcohol related incidents, the submission said.