A fresh Land Court hearing into the planned expansion of the New Acland coal mine has been ordered. 

A long-running legal battle between farmers and New Hope Group is set to continue, after the High Court last week ordered the Land Court to take a fresh look at the effects on farming land of New Hope’s New Acland Coal stage three expansion. 

The company first unveiled plans to expand its thermal coal mine on Queensland’s Darling Downs nearly 14 years ago. The Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) client Oakey Coal Action Alliance (OCCA) has been challenging the plans by New Acland Coal (NAC) ever since. 

The project was stalled by Queensland’s LNP government in 2012 over its potential impact on prime agricultural land. An updated application was knocked back by the Palaszczuk government in 2018 on the recommendation of the Land Court in 2017.

NAC appealed this decision in the Supreme Court in 2018, which found parts of the Land Court’s recommendation to be in error. 

A reconstituted Land Court recommended the project be approved in late 2018, and in 2019, the environmental approval was granted. 

But this led to further action in the Court of Appeal in 2019, which found the 2017 Land Court decision was affected by apprehended bias.

The Court of Appeal decision cast doubt on the validity of the 2018 Land Court rehearing decision.

In 2020, OCAA appealed to the High Court, claiming the matter should have a fresh hearing, unconstrained by the earlier 2017 decision, which was affected by bias.

In recent days, the High Court has allowed the appeal and ordered a fresh hearing in the Land Court. NAC was also ordered to pay OCAA’s legal costs of the High Court appeal.

“This is a welcome decision from the High Court,” EDO managing lawyer Sean Ryan said.

“It is fundamental to the administration of justice that our client and the other objectors have access to an independent decision unclouded by apprehensions of bias or unfairness.

“Our client and the other objectors can now look forward to the opportunity to present their evidence to a fresh Land Court of the impacts of this coal mine on the local farming area and on the rest of Queensland through climate change.”

More details on the long and winding legal path are accessible here.