TWO of the state’s most important horse studs have won a David-and-Goliath battle against a giant coal mine being built on their doorsteps.

State planning commissioners have ruled against Anglo American’s Drayton South project, saving the Hunter Valley studs from a death sentence, The Daily Telegraph can reveal. The Planning Assessment Commission found the open-cut mine was “not in the public interest” and failed to provide a “sufficient buffer” to protect the Coolmore and Darley Woodlands studs.

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Tom Magnier, the owner of Coolmore Australia stud, with weanlings of champion stallion Fastnet Rock / Picture: Bob Barker

“The economic benefits of the project do not outweigh the risk of losing Coolmore and Darley and the potential demise of the equine industry in the area with flow-on impacts on the viticultural and tourism industries,’’ the independent PAC determination said.

Coolmore Australia boss Tom Magnier said last night the decision was a “massive relief”.

“It has been a long, hard struggle for us and also we recognise it has been a very stressful and personally difficult time for Anglo American’s employees at Drayton,’’ he said.

The decision ends a bitter three-year battle, which has divided the Hunter, turning miners against horse breeders.

Under the Drayton South plan, 97 million tonnes of coal would have been mined over the next 20 years from a massive pit located within 500 metres of the studs’ fence lines.

Coolmore and Darley feared they would be forced to abandon their multi-million-dollar operations at Jerrys Plains, where they have helped establish the Hunter as one of only three centres of equine excellence in the world.

They are critical players in NSW’s $2.4 billion thoroughbred industry, generating 40 per cent of the $300 million raised from stallion service fees across Australia each year.

The PAC, chaired by Garry Payne, has ruled Anglo American had not demonstrated it would not adversely impact the health of the studs’ thoroughbreds.

“The (miner’s) approach of monitoring the responses of thoroughbred horses to the mine’s operation to address uncertainty is not acceptable because once the damage to the operations of the studs occur, it is irreversible,’’ the PAC report, to be released today, says.

Some of the greatest champions of the past 20 years — including names such as Melbourne Cup winners Makybe Diva and Shocking, Flying Spur, Exceed and Excel and Fastnet Rock — owe their pedigrees to Coolmore and Darley.

Planning minister Pru Goward said last night she was “satisfied the PAC has considered all the issues and exercised its duty as the independent decision-maker”.

Anglo American had said the mine would employ 500 workers and generate $35 million in annual royalties for NSW. But an economist’s report commissioned by the studs claimed the miner had based its calculations on “unjustified and unrealistic” world coal prices.

A previous PAC also ruled against the mine plan.

Mr Magnier, who was told of the decision by The Daily Telegraph, said: “We can have greater confidence in our future and the future of the NSW racehorse breeding industry.

“This is not about who won and who lost — if it is the case that the second PAC has agreed with the first, it would mean all the independent experts who have reviewed the situation concur this was simply the wrong mine, in the wrong place.”

Article by  John Lehmann The Daily Telegraph

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