Upper Hunter residents voice discontent over Hunter Gas Pipeline project

NOT CONVINCED: Hunter residents Ian and Margaret Bailey (left and centre) and Rowan Vincon are apprehesive about the Hunter Gas Pipeline project.
NOT CONVINCED: Hunter residents Ian and Margaret Bailey (left and centre) and Rowan Vincon are apprehesive about the Hunter Gas Pipeline project.

MYSTERY roads, unmarked houses and a few hundred disgruntled farmers; those are just some of obstacles currently in the way of the Hunter Gas Pipeline (HGP).

The $500 million, 420 kilometre project was the focus of a landholders meeting in Elderslie near Singleton on Sunday, in which those effected raised their concerns.

Despite being approved on February 11, 2009, construction is yet to begin and it required a five year extension to be granted in 2019 by the NSW Department of Planning.

It is therefore unsurprising that a number of different routes have been raised, and many farmers between Narrabri and Newcastle have become troubled by the plans.

A number of key issues were raised on Sunday, with topics such as compensation, legal action and out-of-date data being debated.

The latter of those points may also become a problem for NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, Rob Stokes, who approved the extension and granted HGP the title of a project of 'state significance'.

Prior to their initial approval in 2008, they used the GEODATA TOPO 250K Series 3 to determine what lied along their proposed route. It was divulged at the time the data could be up to five years old, however speakers at Sunday's event stated a house built in 1995 did not appear on that map, meaning it was at least 13 years old back then.

There is also confusion over roads shown on the map with Bimbadeen Road, which was built near the turn of the century, not appearing; while a non-existent track between Cranky Corner Road South and Cranky Corner Road North does appear in their calculations.

It was then stated by HGP Ply Ltd there had been no significant changes since it's initial approval, meaning their extension was granted off the back of mapping more than a quarter of a century old.

Compensation was another major talking point, with event organiser Meg Bowman revealing some people had been in discussions about money, cars or even holidays in repayment for letting the HGP go through their property.

This comes as a surprise to Greenlands farmer Rowan Vincon, who's 100 acre lot on Goorangoola Road was part of the initial route.

"In 2008 they said there was no compensation whatsoever, they weren't paying for the land they were taking off you, they weren't paying for lack of income or anything," he said.

He believes the likelihood of them giving compensation now is still very low, given the amount of properties the project needs to go through.

In fact, Mr Vincon is now unsure to what extent he will even be impacted by the pipeline, with clarification about where the 200 metre corridor is set to actually go through hard to come by for him and his neighbours.

"The original route was to go smack through the middle of our property, which we naturally objected to," he stated.

"They then told us they had shifted that route, and that's one of my problems now because back then we were given two different routes and now it appears there might be two more totally different routes again.

"So we don't know whether we're impacted or not."

He believes the project favours city people, saying it will benefit them and leave farmers with too many issues, not least of which is when the pipe would be decommissioned in approximately 60 years with no fund set up for land owners.

HGP does have some supporters though, with Federal Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon saying he believes it would be a "significant benefit to the Hunter region", and create "more competitively priced and reliable gas [which] will drive economic development".

He acknowledges it is causing distress to some locals, and is encouraging the company to increase their community consultation.

State Upper Hunter MPm Michael Johnsen, is also calling for more meetings with the public, but has taken the additional step of investigating whether it would be viable for HGP to instead use government land where possible.

The primary concern of some residents in the pipeline's path is legal action, with HGP reportedly threatening to get the minister to compulsorily acquire their land.

However, Ms Bowman said that may not be legal, with the Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) Act 1991, No 22, section 5 (1) stating "This Act applies to the acquisition of land (by agreement or compulsory process) by an authority of the State...".

Given HGP are not an authority of the state, she is unsure whether they will be able to make the government take the land for them. That version of the act is yet to be tested in court.

Mr Simonian and Mr Stokes were approached for comment, but are yet to respond at this time.


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