In January 2017, the NSW Minister for Planning requested the then Planning Assessment Commission, now Independent Planning Commission (IPC), conduct a review of the Bylong Coal Project, hold public hearings and make a determination on the proposal.
Two and a half years later it is still uncertain whether the Bylong Coal Project will be approved and I am asked almost daily by residents, local business owners and investors what is happening.
As Mayor of Mid-Western Regional Council, I have made it clear from the outset that I support the Bylong Coal Project. I want to see the Bylong, Rylstone, Kandos, Mudgee and Gulgong townships grow with new families moving to the region.
They are not local and do not understand the significant benefits of this project to the local economy.Des Kennedy
The project proposed by KEPCO provides our communities with a 25-year pipeline of jobs and long-term economic and social benefits.
It is expected to provide around 650 jobs at peak construction and up to 450 jobs at peak operations, generating hundreds of millions of dollars for our region.
Towns such as Kandos and Rylstone have experienced significant hardship since the global financial crisis a decade ago and have been crying out for private sector investment.
The closure of the Kandos Cement Works, the Charbon mine, quarry and all those other businesses which supplied these major operations have forced locals to look elsewhere.
Unemployment in these communities remains high. We have seen a worrying trend of young people leaving our Council area to secure employment elsewhere.
The departure of local families has impacted on local schools including Kandos High which has lost teaching positions.
It should be noted there have been contingents of protestors against the project at various stages of the process, however the majority have travelled from outside the region.
They are not local and do not understand the significant benefits of this project to the local economy.
KEPCO has a presence locally and have contributed to our local community groups and events through a community fund - something that they aren't obliged to do.
They have negotiated a voluntary planning agreement with Council and committed to funding road upgrades should the project be approved.
The harsh reality of the ongoing uncertainty is now being felt by our townships and this was relayed to the IPC at public hearings held in 2017 and 2018.
On both occasions, the IPC heard from the owner of an engineering business in Rylstone that he'd be forced to close his business without certainty about future projects like the Bylong Coal Project.
After almost a year and a half waiting he finally closed his business at the end of June this year.
The recommendation of the Department of Planning to the IPC was to approve the project. Since commencement of the planning process in 2014, KEPCO's technical work has been assessed with over 33 peer reviews to consider its environmental and social impact.
Almost six months ago, Council wrote to the IPC seeking advice as to when a decision on the Bylong Coal Project could be expected.
A decision is yet to be made. For the sake of our communities the sooner a decision is made, the better, and I will be writing again to the IPC to raise these concerns.
- Des Kennedy, Mayor of Mid-Western Regional Council