Project development with BHP Billiton’s Illawarra Coal and the community

Since 2007 Turnstone Projects has been engaged by Illawarra Coal - a subsidiary of BHP Billiton based in the southern coalfields of NSW - to help support their community consultation program as they develop their mining interests. Initially engaged to assist with the Appin Area Community Working Group (2007-2012), Turnstone Projects has also helped scope, establish and run other company-community consultation groups: the Douglas Park Community Advisory Panel (2010-2013) and the Bulli Seam Operations Community Reference Group (during 2009). In addition, Turnstone Projects has been commissioned at various times to develop and implement workshops for internal business planning purposes.

Case File: Appin Area Community Working Group

The Appin Area Community Working Group (AACWG) began in 1998. Its members are concerned citizens who work on a voluntary basis with Illawarra Coal to provide a mechanism for robust and effective communication between the company and community.

When we were appointed a detailed review of community and company objectives for the Group and its supporting practices was undertaken.

As a result, systems fostering greater community contributions have been created along with mechanisms to enable a more detailed understanding of Illawarra Coal’s operations. A process for annual review is now in place, giving greater transparency and an approach that continually improves mutual communication and understanding.

The development of this culture over the last five years has been beneficial in many ways, particularly in 2012 when, through State Government legislation, a formal Community Consultative Committee (CCC) was appointed and the AACWG ended.

The approval of Illawarra Coal’s Bulli Seam Operations Project by the NSW Government in December 2011 enabled a significant expansion of the company’s current activities. With this its Appin and West Cliff operations were required to form a CCC.

In preparation for this transition, Illawarra Coal held a workshop, seeking to draw on the knowledge and practical experience of AACWG members in considering specific aspects of the CCC. This was to help ensure its effectiveness for the many stakeholders involved. Illawarra Coal asked Turnstone Projects to develop the concept for the workshop, to facilitate the discussions and prepare a detailed report.

As a measure of the relationship built by members of the AACWG with Illawarra Coal, both parties agreed that the formation of this new CCC provided an opportunity for best practice community consultation. On this basis, they committed to openly discuss aspects and issues. Members contributed specific recommendations around participation, engagement and communication. Illawarra Coal has adopted a number of these recommendations. And for AACWG members, three are now on the CCC.

As a community representative involved in consultation with Illawarra Coal, I have appreciated Rebecca Iliffe's expertise in facilitation. Our meetings bring together people of such disparate motivation from mining to environmental protection and Rebecca's diligence in informing herself on relevant issues enables her to skilfully ensure mutually respectful communication between the parties. Her unobtrusive firmness in following timing schedules guarantees adequate consideration is given to concerns of community representatives. I have also been grateful to Rebecca for her persistent pursuit of satisfactory responses to my questions about the environmental impacts of the company's mining operations.
Leonie Kelly, member, Illawarra Coal's CCC (formerly Appin Area Community Working Group)

Case File: Douglas Park Community Advisory Panel

In early 2010 Illawarra Coal sought to establish a new community working group specifically to look at local issues associated with the company’s move into the Douglas Park area.

Douglas Park is above one of Illawarra Coal’s new underground mining areas. Along with mining, the expansion of Illawarra Coal’s operations requires a significant amount of above-ground infrastructure within and around the community of Douglas Park.

Turnstone Projects was commissioned to assist in forming, developing, facilitating and managing a representative group of interested individuals from within the community to raise issues and provide advice to Illawarra Coal on specific aspects of a project.

The need for a local group, rather than draw on the AACWG, was due to the specific nature of the developments and changes that were planned for the area.

While the community is in an existing mining area, the arrival of mining related infrastructure is seen by them as a significant change to its sense of identity.

The focus of the advisory panel was initially to provide specific feedback on the development of a Vent Shaft that would be located within the community. This outlet shaft releases air from the underground workings and there was significant community concern about the health, visual and noise impacts for the township and residents.

Working closely with the community, and as part of a broader and more intensive communications strategy by Illawarra Coal, the advisory panel provided substantial input to specific requirements for the Vent Shaft. Following governmental approval the project is now in its construction phase. The Panel continues to meet regularly to discuss this and other associated projects.

Through effective management, the panel has been beneficial to Illawarra Coal by identifying issues and opportunities for both parties to enable a shared understanding, acceptance and at times, an agreed position.

As a newer member of the Douglas Park Community Advisory Panel, I have very much appreciated your impartiality and commitment to the Group. You have demonstrated a high level of professionalism and I thank you for this. We wish you the best and hopefully we will cross paths in the future.

Lou Villanueva, member, Douglas Park Community Advisory Panel, resident of Douglas Park

Case File: Bulli Seam Operations Project Community Reference Group

When the Bulli Seam Operations Part 3A application process was in development (during 2009), Illawarra Coal asked Turnstone Projects to help form and manage a representative group of residents from the townships of Appin, Douglas Park, Menangle, Razorback and Wedderburn.

The advisory panel was to provide specific community advice on aspects on the application process that would considered by the NSW Government.

With members drawn together from across the project area a detailed work program was established for the year to meet both the company and community objectives.

With the submission of the Part 3A application by Illawarra Coal, the formal role of Bulli Seam Operations Project Community Reference Group came to an end. A number of the members sought to continue their involvement with Illawarra Coal and are now members of the Illawarra Coal CCC and the Douglas Park Community Advisory Panel.

At the end of the year, a community-led submission was prepared with assistance from Turnstone Projects and provided to the NSW Department of Planning and the Planning and Assessment Commission for consideration.

Turnstone Projects and Rebecca Iliffe’s expertise and dedication in assisting the community consultations for an expansion of Illawarra Coal’s Southern coalfields operation has been very helpful, allowing us to achieve our goals. From my experience working in the environmental field, it is a sign of a well run group that a number of the members on the Illawarra Coal community reference group have gone on to continue their involvement with the company in another forum. Thank you and well done.
Josh Peters, Environmental Projects Manager, Resource Strategies