There was applause from the public gallery at the Narrabri Shire Council meeting when Councillors voted to reject the third Vickery Mine Extension Voluntary Planning offer of $3.2 million made by Whitehaven Coal.
“I think the Mayor hit the nail right on the head – we have to have a solution where everybody is satisfied and everybody can work together,” said Boggabri Business and Community Progress Association president John Shaw who travelled to the meeting with a group of Boggabri residents.
If the project gets the green light, it’s likely Whitehaven will be asked to enter into a VPA with Council – an agreement under which a developer voluntarily agrees to provide or fund infrastructure or services.
At an extraordinary council meeting held in Boggabri on October 17, Council unanimously resolved to request a revised VPA offer of $14.87 million as opposed to Whitehaven’s $2.712 million offer.
The resolution was met with a round of applause from the Boggabri crowd at the time.
Whitehaven Coal has since responded to Council’s October request with an offer of a $3.2 million one-off upfront payment upon commencement of construction, consisting of the following contributions: $500,000 upgrade to the Boggabri Pool, $500,000 for a community meeting space, $850,000 for retirement units in the town, $500,000 for the Merton Street Streetscape project, $750,000 for showground improvements and a $100,000 contribution to a community development role for Boggabri.
Alternatively, Whitehaven were open to the consideration of providing a contribution in-kind, via the transfer of land in Boggabri currently owned by Whitehaven to Council at market rates to support the future development of an industrial estate by Council.
“The offer is lousy, absolutely lousy,” said Boggabri resident Pat Murphy.
“Given it was unanimous by the community to reject the VPA offer at the Council run Boggabri community consultation meetings, it is surely reasonable and fair enough to say that the community is 100 per cent supportive of the Council’s stance,” Mr Murphy said after the council meeting.
“At the end of the day it’s $3.2 million over 25 years – we know what the cost of living is today, what’s the cost of living going to be like in 25 years time?
“What does it equate to? $130,000 a year which probably isn’t even the salary of one person working in the mines.”
The proposed Vickery Coal Mine, Vickery Extension project would be located within both the Gunnedah and Narrabri Local Government areas and Council has long-advocated for the Boggabri community to receive its ‘fair share’.
“The Boggabri community will feel the greatest impacts from the proposed mine over the next 25 years,” Mayor Cathy Redding said earlier this year.
“It is therefore only right that Boggabri should realise tangible lasting benefits from Vickery.”
At its most recent meeting held on November 26, Council unanimously backed a motion to ‘reject’ the current offer because ‘it does not meet the Council endorsed objectives for a planning agreement’ concerning the project, it is ‘not fair and reasonable’ considering ‘the impacts’ of the mine on the local community and accepting the VPA offer is ‘not in the public interest’.
“Councillors need to stand by the Boggabri community and do what we said we’d do,” said Cr Annie McMahon.
“I’m concerned, I don’t want to see the Boggabri community walk away with a zero dollar amount,” said Cr Cameron Staines.
“The relationship with the Narrabri Shire and Whitehaven is an unhealthy one and that needs to be resolved ASAP.
“There was no one (at the Boggabri meeting) in favour of accepting it,” added Cr Staines.
“We need to be able to come to a very workable relationship between industries and Council,” added Cr Redding.
“And I also agree with the recommendation – I don’t believe the Boggabri community are being looked at in a favourable light,” said Cr Redding.
Council also voted to write to the NSW Government and advise them of the status of the VPA negotiations and request independent arbitration.
And to write to the Independent Planning Commission to request that they defer the determination of the project until the independent arbitration has been concluded.
Councillor Ron Campey also put forward an amendment that passed requiring Council to make contact with the Member for Barwon Roy Butler as well as NSW State Ministers, and form a delegation to be represented at State Parliament on Council’s current position regarding the VPA offer.
“I think we’ve made our point clear and I think the people of Boggabri have made their point clear,” said Cr Campey.
“I think we just have to go about pressing the point in a different way,” he added.
“We need to start working with the State Government – there’s obviously no point in negotiating with Whitehaven,” he said after the meeting.
“We need to have more presence at a State level.”
“An independent arbitrator hopefully will enable it to stay on track between Whitehaven and the Council and get to an outcome at the other end that is acceptable for the council, for the community and for Whitehaven – if it’s approved,” said Boggabri resident Pat Murphy.
“This is really positive, if issues can be resolved moving forward at the mole-hill stage instead of them turning into mountains, then it will enable Council and community to focus their hard earned time and resources on positives that progress the Shire.”
“I believe that we’ve reached saturation level in regards to the impacts within the Leard Forest mining precinct at the moment.
“This project should be refused, it can be looked at in the future in 25 years time when the other projects have run out and that way be have sustainable jobs moving forward over a 50 year period not over a 20 year period,” said Mr Murphy.
“However, if it is approved we need to remember that the perception in the immediate community is that any VPA negotiated is first and foremost catch up,” said Boggabri resident Pat Murphy.
“Boggabri hasn’t seen the benefits that Gunnedah has, yet our community are the ones doing the heavy lifting when it comes to the associated social and environmental impacts.”
A spokesman for Whitehaven Coal told The Courier, “Our offer is generous by industry standards and remains on the table for Narrabri to reconsider at any time.”
Whitehaven managing director and CEO Paul Flynn has said previously that Whitehaven has spent almost $300 million across Narrabri and Boggabri areas and that the towns would benefit from hundreds of new local jobs during the construction and operation of the project.
Crs Lloyd Finlay and Ron Campbell were not present for the motion due to pecuniary interests.