The Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) held a hearing on October 29 to allow the community to express their views on Incitec’s proposal to build an ammonium nitrate production facility in Newcastle.
All 18 speakers slammed the proposal as presenting an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic explosion that could threaten the lives of thousands of people in the city.
Speakers ranged from explosives expert Tony Richards to the Socialist Alliance, the Greens, and several community groups from Stockton and Mayfield, as well as members of the public.
A common theme for many speakers was that Incitec had avoided answering the community’s concerns in its “response to submissions” document.
Niko Leka from Socialist Alliance pointed out that people wanted to know the blast contours, but Incitec's response had been to explain how it had calculated “risk contours”.
“That’s not what we asked for,” said Leka. “We want to know the blast contours.”
Several other speakers expressed surprise that despite Incitec having had several years to provide a fire safety plan and to work out cooperative arrangements with chemical company Orica, these had either not been done, or had not been presented for viewing.
David Croft, from Stockton said that having Incitec located next to Orica, doubling the ammonium nitrate storage to 21,500 tonnes a year, had doubled the risk. He also discussed the risk of ammonium nitrate trucks being involved in an accident.
Stockton Community Action group spokesperson Kate Johnson said that after a hexavalent chromium spill from the Orica plant, former environment minister Robyn Parker had said that approval for a facility like Orica to be located so close to a big city, would never be given.
“Yet here we are. And since then we’ve had approval for storage of 600 megalitres of diesel next door to it as well.”
John McKenzie of the Hunter Community Environment Centre said it was the public perception of risk that should be considered by the PAC, rather than Incitec’s estimates of what the actual risk of explosion may or may not be.
Caleb Rees, a local resident, pointed out that Incitec had not considered the community at all in proposing to build its facility in Newcastle.
“They can put it anywhere,” he said. “The only reason they are putting it here is to make easy money. Don’t make the same mistakes our grandparents made, of letting the community bear the cost.”
The PAC will consider the additional responses, and there will be a right of appeal.