Lithium giant Albemarle one step closer in bid for 500-bed workers’ camp in Binningup

US chemicals giant Albemarle has progressed plans for a temporary 500-bed workers’ village on farmland south of Perth, despite opposition from the local shire and farmers.

The company wants to build a 128-villa workers accommodation site in the small seaside town of Binningup, as it awaits a final investment decision on an expansion at its nearby Kemerton lithium refinery, 150 kilometers south of Perth.

The Shire of Harvey last month refused the miner’s application for the camp, saying it was not consistent with the local area’s farming purposes.

But on Monday, Western Australia’s development assessment panel planning body voted against the shire’s refusal.

Instead, the panel voted not to make a decision for or against the proposal and instead put the plan out for public comment.

Smaller than Pilbara mining camps

Albemarle’s refinery was originally set to produce 100,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide each year, but the output projection was halved in 2020 following a drop in lithium prices.

A large green paddock, an aerial view
The plot of land where Albemarle plans to build a workers’ camp.(ABC South West: Anthony Pancia)

An expansion is now back on the cards, as the price index for lithium hydroxide had increased by more than 400 per cent over the past year.

The company produced its first lithium hydroxide last month.

Lawyers for Albemarle told the development panel the proposal was much smaller than mining camps in the north-west of the state.

Claire Willey said any impact from the village on the community and surrounds could be managed.

“It’s smaller than those camps in the north of the state, which can have up to 3,000 workers,” she said.

“We say it can be compatible with surrounding agriculture.”

A sign that reads "albemarle" on the side of a gray panel building
Albemarle’s Kemerton lithium plant is just north of Bunbury.(ABC South West: Georgia Loney)

The panel was told the temporary workers village on Binningup’s main road would be in place for 10 to 15 years, and be hidden from the street.

A large fence would be in place to protect from any spray drift from local farms.

Concern of conflict with agriculture

Harvey Shire president Paul Gillett told the panel the area should be primarily used for farming, urging its members to reject the application.

“We are talking about the quality of life … and the pre-eminence of agriculture,” Mr Gillett said.

Planning consultant Paul Kotsoglo represented farmers on properties next to the site had a similar argument.

He told the panel the site was too close to a nearby market garden, which needed to apply spray to crops, only a few hundred meters from the nearest villa.

“It’s not consistent with the planning scheme.”

A mock up of a building imposition on an open field
An artists impression of the Albermarle workers camp.(Supplied: Department of Lands)

The panel voted against a motion from Mr Gillett that it refuses the application outright.

Panel member Karella Hope said while the panel could have made a decision, she felt it needed to be put out for comment.

She said she appreciated the strong community interest.

‘The panel does not have the discretion to consider it as a residential building,” Ms Hope said.

“This [deferral] shouldn’t be built as support. ”

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