Prominent business people have spoken out in support of mining in Gunnedah, calling it the “lifeblood of our town”.
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As opposition to mines in the area gains national coverage, businesspeople have said Gunnedah could be a “ghost town” without mining.
Don Ewing, of Ewing Real Estate, said mining had saved a town “on its knees” following the 1994-96 drought and the closure of the abattoirs.
“Real estate values plummeted over 30 per cent,” Mr Ewing said.
“The loss of jobs and income to our community was horrendous. It drained our community of residents – we had over 500 homes for sale...
“What turned this around?
“The world’s appetite to provide infrastructure for their expanding populations – the need to manufacture steel from iron ore and our coal to fire the furnaces.”
He said interest in major expansions or new mines by Whitehaven, Boggabri Coal, BHP Billiton and Shenhua turned around the shire’s fortunes.
“These mines accumulatively have contributed more to the progression of Gunnedah than any government of either persuasion have done in a century,” Mr Ewing said.
It’s a sentiment Gunnedah’s Chamber of Commerce has found was held by the majority of respondents to a survey last year.
Of the 40 businesses surveyed, 67.5 per cent were in favour of increased mining activity in the region.
Seventy-five per cent of the respondents believed an increase in mining activity would have a positive impact on their business.
“The Chamber of Commerce has discussed the issue and taken a stance,” chamber president Ann Luke said.
“We are in favour of mining in light of the survey of members.”
But she said while the majority of businesses supported an increase in mining, they were equally clear they wanted government processes in place to protect farmland.
“We are an agricultural town and that is the basis of most small businesses that are here,” Ms Luke said.
“Most businesses are looking foward to expansion and reversed population decline.
“If it weren’t for that, we would have less teachers, banks and services.”
Mr Ewing said he believed Gunnedah was one of the only regional towns in NSW that was growing.
Jamie Chaffey, managing director of the Stripes Group of Companies which employs more than 60 people, agreed.
“We have all seen positive benefits for local employment and businesses from Idemitsu Boggabri Coal and from all the Whitehaven Coal sites around Gunnedah, Werris Creek, Boggabri and Narrabri,” Mr Chaffey said.
“It’s important to recognise strong employment and economic opportunities will also flow to the Gunnedah region for years to come from Shenhua Watermark if we can properly connect with them.
“I want to encourage the Gunnedah business community to work more closely with the mining industry, recognise its benefits and look to the long term together.”
He said stronger employment opportunities kept families in town and attracted new families.
“I think that the return to vibrancy in our Gunnedah community is under way thanks to Whitehaven Coal and Idemitsu Boggabri Coal and can grow with Shenhua.”
James Farquhar of Mackellar Motel said he believed without mining, Gunnedah businesses would be about $25 million a year worse off.
Mr Farquhar made his calculations based on his own business, which he said would face hard times without the mines.
“With the strong interest in coal mining now, our business is currently running an occupancy level of around 80 per cent,” he said.
“If we were to return to the bad old days in the early part of this century with no coal mines, we would be lucky to be running at 40 per cent...”
Mr Farquhar said his own business would suffer a loss of close to $250,000.
“How many small businesses are there in Gunnedah?” he said.
“If my scenario is repeated 100 times, it would mean $25 million a year less going into the Gunnedah community.
“Imagine the devastation to the local economy if coal mining were to disappear altogether, which is exactly what happened from 1998 to 2005.
“Small communities like Gunnedah need diversified thriving industries. Currently, we have farming and coal.
“The farmers proved last time round they could not take up the slack caused by the loss of the coal industry, and it is incredibly selfish of them now to be agitating against an alternative wealth and job-creating industry.”
He said there was “overwhelming” scientific evidence the Shenhua Watermark mine would mean little harm to farming.
“There is room for both mining and farming in the Gunnedah region, and we should all learn to be tolerant and understanding of the needs of each other.”
Mr Ewing said he believed a lot of the infrastructure existing in Gunnedah was here because of the area’s mining history.
“Our town’s economy has been boosted enormously over the last 20 years and, without being too provocative, it has been created by the increased development of coal explorations and development.”
Brendon MacKellar, of MacKellar Excavations, which employs about 50 people, said the build of the business came from mining.
He said the flow-on effects from the mining industry was felt around the town.
“If Gunnedah had no mining it would be like when the abattoir shut – a ghost town,” Mr MacKellar said.
He said he did not believe there would be environmental problems with the mines provided they followed their conditions of consent.