THE controversial Shenhua Watermark coal project will be no more, after a $100 million agreement was reached with the NSW government for the mining giant to walk away.
NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro confirmed the development on Wednesday, meeting with local farmers and landholders to make the announcement that the government will cancel exploration licence 7223.
This will release Shenhua from its obligations under the exploration licence.
The controversial mine had been opposed by local farmers who were against mining on the Liverpool Plains, fearing it would damage the agricultural food bowl and rich water aquifers.
Mr Barilaro met locals and was flanked by NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, Planning Minister Rob Stokes and Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson to make the announcement, which had been leaked on Tuesday.
"The NSW Government is committed to making NSW the number one investment destination for mining in Australia, but we need to find a balance, and this decision will deliver certainty to farmers and the Liverpool Plains community, while guaranteeing protection to parcels of land with high value biodiversity," Mr Barilaro said.
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The Chinese-owned coal giant had already removed its signage from its headquarters in Gunnedah in 2020, fuelling speculation the project was under a cloud.
The state government had also refunded $262 million to Shenhua to buy back 51 per cent of the mine in 2017.
On Wednesday, Mr Perrottet said the government was committed to supporting the common sense, responsible development of high-quality coal resources, but prime agricultural land also needed to be protected.
"The cancellation of this project will mean that no open cut coal mining can occur in the area. Coal will of course continue to be an important part of our economy and is essential to supporting jobs, and the NSW Government continues to support coal exploration in areas where it makes sense," Mr Perrottet said.
A spokesperson for Mr Barilaro said the agreement included:
- certainty for local landholders and communities;
- prime agricultural farmland to be preserved through the relinquishment of the consent and exploration licence, and the prohibition of future coal mining projects on this site;
- the acquisition of more than 6,000 hectares of high biodiversity land to be managed by Local Land Services including the protection of habitat for koalas and other endangered species;
- protecting significant Indigenous cultural sites and artefacts
- ensuring that water that would have been taken by the mine can continue to be used for agriculture and other productive uses.
Mr Barilaro said this was about a balanced approach to deliver certainty to both the mining industry and farmers.
"From the strategic release of land to support coal exploration in the right areas, to unlocking investment opportunities for high tech metals and critical minerals, mining remains a key priority for the state," Mr Barilaro said.
"The NSW Government thanks Shenhua for its cooperation in reaching this agreement."