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.
- Albemarle wants to build a 500-bed village for its lithium plant workers
- The village would be built on farmland in Binningup, 150 kilometers south of Perth
- Local farmers and the shire are opposed to the plan, which will now be advertised for public comment
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.
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.”
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.”
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. ”
The proposal is set to be put out for comment for 45 days later this week.
A spokeswoman for Albemarle said the company would continue to work with the shire.
“The best outcome for the community is for us to operate a successful business, with purpose-built amenity for all workers in a temporary accommodation village, with flow on benefits to local business and the economy.”
The planned camp in Binningup comes as the town also considers the purchase of a large parcel of land for development by mining magnate Andrew Forrest.
The Forrest family’s property development company said it plans to “reactivate” the 260-hectare coastal site and re-open the town’s old golf course.
It also comes as the WorkSafe probes Albemarle for a series of alleged unsafe work practices.