The Winds of Change

Every year the cold westerly winds come to Canyonleigh in August. This year they were particularly nasty bringing sleet and at times the large gusts made our homes shudder. The tranquillity of Canyonleigh felt as though it was under assault.
It seems that it’s not just the wind that threatens the tranquil life we enjoy and value in Canyonleigh. The proposal of two major developments at separate corners of our community brings with them the winds of change.

The first proposal comes in the form of a development application for Tugalong Station. This follows the closure of the unauthorized motorcross and motorcycle trail riding facility on this site by Wingecarribee Shire Council in early 2009. The owners of Tugalong Station, Bunbury Properties Pty Limited, have taken over the running of the property since Council’s closure and have clearly made a large investment in the preparation of the development application.

Tugalong Station has been running for years as a tourism facility with horse riding and accommodation. The proposal details the upgrade of the existing infrastructure such as accommodation and the addition of areas for camping grounds, bike tracks, acoustic earth mounding, fencing and the regeneration of areas previously used as tracks. The application contains reports addressing the management of noise, soil and water, water cycling, flora and fauna assessment, bushfire, refuge and evacuation during bushfire. A separate plan of management for Tugalong Station was also contained in the proposal.

Public viewing of the DA was made available by Council at the Council Chambers in Moss Vale, through Canyonleigh Store and by a public exhibition at Canyonleigh Hall on 10th August. This public display at the hall was an opportunity for local residents to see the development details first hand and to talk to the Council’s planning department about the application detail and the process Council will undertake in making their determination. Residents turned out in force throughout the two and half hours of the exhibition. Even the local paper sent someone out from town.

The application has been lodged under the new LUA as a “Recreation Facility – Outdoor” rather than a “Recreation Facility – Major” as this is not permissible on the property zoning as RU1 And E3 (Environmental Management).
Canyonleigh residents have stated that they are most concerned about the noise generated by the bikes, pollution from dust drifting and settling in dams and tanks, the increased threat of bushfire and problems caused by the increased amount of traffic on the already difficult thoroughfares of Canyonleigh, Tugalong and Inverary Roads. Then there is the additional problem of wildlife on the roads. Concerns have also been raised about the proposed number of riders per day listed at 320 that does not include non-riding visitors. Operating hours have been listed as open from Fridays to Tuesdays, closed most Wednesdays and Thursdays outside of school holidays and operating only through daylight hours, which will vary seasonally.

The Canyonleigh Community Association along with the Southern Villages Group and a number of local residents have lodged submissions stating their concerns and opposition to this development. The closing date for submissions to be lodged to Council was August 16. Council indicated that they have received a large amount of submissions in support of the development from both within and outside the Shire and that they will be assessing each submission on its merit.
Keen supporters of the proposal include recreational riders, families involved in motorbike riding as well as professional bike riding organizations. They all have the same message, this will be a big drawcard for riders of all ages and that there is a real need for a bike park with good tracks and facilities and where safety is a key feature.

Council are now processing the development application, which may include calling for further details from the applicant. Council departments and committees will review the proposal and prepare reports to address specific areas. An example of this will be the WSC Traffic Committee report that will take in the entire length of the journey to Tugalong Station. Other statutory bodies including Sydney Catchment Authority are also involved in processing the application and areas of significance will include regeneration areas, future tracks and fencing to block direct access to the river. The issue of the Wildlife Corridor will be covered under the Illawarra Regional Plan with input from other agencies including SCA and NPWS. Council also indicated that they can put conditions on the approval but these are also subject to appeal and that the appeal process can be lengthy.

So this isn’t going to be resolved quickly or easily.

The second proposal comes in the form of coal mining. Not something unfamiliar to the Southern Highlands or indeed Canyonleigh.

The sudden announcement that long wall coal mining is being proposed on an exploration mining lease at Sutton Forest that is currently held by Anglo American plc brought people out on a cold August night to a meeting convened by Goulburn MP Pru Goward and Sutton Forest resident Peter Martin. Held at Sutton Forest Hall, it was standing room only with around 300 people packed into the meeting. Representatives from Cockatoo Coal Limited, rather than Anglo American, addressed the meeting and faced a barrage of questions from irate residents.

Cockatoo Coal Limited, with mining assets in Central Queensland, has entered into a consortium with KEPCO (Korea Electric Power Company) and POSCO (Pohang Iron and Steel Company) both from South Korea, to acquire the coal development and exploration assets of Anglo American plc which includes the Sutton Forest lease. Through a map titled Southern Coalfield – Current Coal Mining and Exploration Tiles and located on the NSW Department of Planning website, the Chronicle has discovered that the exploration lease covers a large area. The approximate area runs from the boundary with Berrima Colliery at Medway in the north, to as far east as Peppers Mt Broughton, south towards the Shell Service Centre and west towards Foxgrove Road. This proposed coalfield is described by Cockatoo Coal as being in an established coalfield with existing rail infrastructure linking Port Kembla.

Under the terms of the consortium POSCO agrees to acquire 100% of the Sutton Forest development and transfer 30% to Cockatoo Coal. The key conditions to this are approval by the Foreign Investment Review Board. POSCO is one of the world’s largest steel manufacturers and coal consumers. It is also the largest shareholder of Cockatoo Coal. Another large shareholder of Cockatoo Coal, KEPCO is part of the consortium with Cockatoo Coal that will see a similar acquisition arrangement at an additional coalfield near Mudgee. KEPCO is South Korea’s largest power generator and distributor and is a top 10 global consumer of coal. According to Cockatoo Coal’s website this expansion provides the company with enhanced geographic diversity with Sutton Forest providing exposure to a hard coking coal resource.

Cockatoo Coal also state that there are 115 million tonnes of coking coal with a conceptual life time of 30 years at the Sutton Forest site but other reports put this figure much higher at around 300 million tonnes. At the community meeting it was stated that plan was still in early stages and that mining wouldn’t commence for several years. Perhaps this was why the Cockatoo Coal representatives weren’t able to answer many of the questions posed at the meeting. The sheer size of the investment does indicate how seriously they’re looking at this coalfield. The meeting concluded with the establishment of the Southern Highlands Coal Action Group (SHCAG).

Since the meeting at Sutton Forest Hall, the Council unanimously voted to support the newly formed Southern Highlands Coal Action Group. However under current NSW Legislation significant state projects are approved directly by the Minister for Planning and do not provide for consultation with local government.

The effects of longwall mining are well documented and the subsidence produced damages the land, property infrastructure, water supplies and subsequently wildlife. Google “longwall mining side effects” and you’ll get a good idea of threat to our community if this proposal is approved.

To contact SHCAG email pmartin@bigpond.net.au.

Interestingly a number of larger media publications around Australia have run this story highlighting the threat to Nicole Kidman’s Sutton Forest property. It can’t hurt – isn’t all PR good PR?