Hume Coal win Sutton Forest land access court case

Hume Coal win Sutton Forest land access court case
Hume Coal win Sutton Forest land access court case

Four landowners in the NSW hamlet of Sutton Forest have failed in their attempt to stop the South Korean owned Hume Coal gaining access to their land.

The Land and Environment Court hearing ruled against their claim that Hume could not get onto their properties due to "significant improvements”.

The Act defines “significant improvement" as meaning “any substantial building, dam, reservoir, contour bank, graded bank, levee, water disposal area, soil conservation work or other valuable work or structure”

Under section 31(5) of the Mining Act, significant improvements provide the only ability for landowners in possibly preventing mining companies accessing their properties.

"Hume may access the plaintiffs’ properties as proposed and prospect at the identified locations in accordance with terms of the licence under any binding access arrangements made pursuant to Div 2 of Pt 8 of the Mining Act," the court ruled.

"The plaintiffs’ interpretation of s 31 which would identify all driveways and improved pastures as “significant improvements” is in effect inconsistent with the objects of the Act.

"Such an interpretation has the potential to inhibit or sterilise the development of mineral resources over vast areas of rural land which are paddocks and if made roads and tracks cannot be used and new tracks and roads need to be made for the purposes of access for prospecting do anything other than minimise impacts on the environment."

There was an order that the plaintiffs pay the defendant’s costs of the proceedings unless the plaintiffs apply to the court registrar to relist the matter for hearing argument as to costs.

The court was asked to rule that the significant improvements included stock-proof fences, formed roads and tracks and cropped or improved paddocks. 

The plaintiffs were Peter Martin, Phillip Pollicina, Ross Alexander and the Roche family. 

One of the Southern Highlands property is an equestrian eventing course of Olympic standard owned by Kathy and John Roche, that has been developed over the past 20 years.

Kathy and John were recently named the NSW Eventing Volunteers of the Year.

The five day hearing in September 14 included a site visit. 

The case was intended to be precedent setting, Peter Martin, from SHCAG envisaged.

He said it was the first time that a group of property owners had got together in NSW to challenge a mining company’s ability to access all of their properties for exploration because of the significant improvements.

"These properties are all highly developed and we contend that Hume Coal has no right under s31 to come on and drill holes given the inconvenience for landowners, disruption to day-to-day operations and potential significant damage to the properties concerned,” he said before the hearing.

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor is one of our authors. Jonathan has been writing about property since the early 1980s and is editor-at-large of Property Observer.

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