Today, the NSW Court of Appeal dismissed Ashton Coal’s appeal to overturn a 2014 ruling of the Land and Environment Court that required the company to obtain prior permission to access a farm property before expanding its open cut coal mine near Camberwell in the Hunter Valley.
It was a unanimous decision by the Court of Appeal's three judges.
The Hunter Environment Lobby, represented by community legal centre EDO NSW, successfully defended the coal company’s appeal by arguing that the conditions laid out in the 2014 decision were an important safeguard for minimising the adverse environmental and social impacts of the mine’s expansion.
Commenting on the decision Wendy Bowman said she felt a bit stunned as she was not expecting a ruling until next year.
"Its wonderful news and I hope it inspires others facing a similar predicament to me to stick in there and fight mining and coal seam gas companies from taking your home," she said.
"These companies are not allowed to kick you off your land."
Mrs Bownman hopes that Yancoal, the company behind the Ashton project, will now call its quits adding the last thing she wants to see is another Warkworth mine saga.
"Ashton is such a little seven year mine why should one industry put all the other industries in the region at risk," she said.
In the 2014 decision, the Land and Environment Court found that approval could be granted for the mine’s expansion, but only on condition that Ashton purchased, leased or gained permission from Mrs Wendy Bowman to access her farm.
The property, which would be totally consumed by the mine’s expansion, is critical not just for the company to access the coal, but also to properly manage the mine’s impacts to ground and surface water. The company cannot compulsorily acquire her land.
Mrs Bowman has lived and farmed in and around the Camberwell area for most of her life. She belongs to the family who settled in the area in the late 1880s and who have been dairy farming there ever since. She has said that she does not intend to sell her property to the mining company.
“This decision reinforces the importance of court-enforced conditions designed to protect our environment,” EDO NSW Principal Solicitor Sue Higginson said.
“It’s a timely reminder of how our laws can foster ecologically sustainable development. So often we need our laws to strike a balance between economic and ecological needs.”
Bev Smiles, of Hunter Environment Lobby, said “We’re delighted the Court of Appeal has upheld the conditions established by the Land and Environment Court. The condition about Wendy’s property is really important – it shows that communities can have a voice in big developments such as this. We’d like to thank EDO NSW for all their help in securing this decision.”
Ms Smiles said because it was a unanimous decision the company would not be able to mount a successful High Court appeal.
"This ruling sets a legal precedent - its means the myth mining companies can compulsorily acquire land is totally incorrect," she said.
"Those mining bullies better take notice of the ruling."
Ms Smiles said this case was markedly different to the Warkworth case because in that judgement the Land and Environment Court disapproved the mine.
Whereas in this Land and Environment judgement the mine was approved provided Yancoal acquired Wendy's property, she said.