Coal seam gas process meets with cynicism

OPPONENTS of coal seam gas in Campbelltown have slammed the state government's decision to assess the northern expansion of the Camden Gas Project under a new system, saying it has taken away their right to challenge any decision made about the project in court.

The Department of Planning and Infrastructure announced on Monday that the proposed expansion — which would see gas wells drilled in parts of Campbelltown and the Scenic Hills — would be assessed under the government's new state significant development system, rather than the controversial Part 3A system.

This means the project will be re-exhibited for public comment and undergo a merit review by the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) that will include public hearings.

The department's Acting Director-General Richard Pearson said this was the first major coal seam gas project to be assessed under the new system and it would ensure a higher level of public scrutiny.

An AGL Energy spokeswoman said the company requested the transition to the new assessment system to allay community concerns and allow greater scrutiny.

But Scenic Hills Association spokeswoman Jacqui Kirkby said the new system would make no difference and had been met with cynicism by group members.

"Our right to legally appeal the merit of the planning department and PAC determination in the Land and Environment Court has been taken away by the minister's decision to get the PAC to do a merit review with public hearings," Ms Kirkby said.

"This would also have applied under Part 3A if the minister had asked the commission to do this.

"In other words, nothing's changed. They will both review it and decide it

"They will play judge and jury with no democratic right to have the quality of the decision reviewed by the normal process of law, and no political appeal."

The project was first exhibited in 2010 and AGL has since revised the plans for the expansion, now proposing that six coal seam gas wellheads be drilled at 11 locations instead of 12.

Residents can view the government's response to submissions and the amended development application on the Department of Planning and Infrastructure's website and Campbelltown Council offices until December 18.

"Now we've only got six weeks to put something together, right before Christmas," Ms Kirkby said.

"It couldn't be worse."

Do you think the new system will allow for more public scrutiny?