Mining giants in housing fight that is killing town
ONCE one of Queensland's 'heart and soul' coal towns, Glenden is now giving a good impression of a community in its death throes.
Locals say there are at least 250 homes lying vacant in the state's last mining company owned-town.
Glenden, 120 kilometres south of Collinsville, is 'owned' by miner Glencore which operates the nearby Newlands mine.
Glencore owns nearly all of the houses and all of the single person's accommodation in the town.
Residents say miner QCoal Group which is due to start its $1.76 billion Byerwen Coal project next to Newlands this year needs accommodation for what could be as many as 500 staff.
They say the houses could be the town's salvation if they were filled with mine workers instead of being left vacant.
Residents say there is bad blood between Glencore and QCoal and fear that the stand-off over the vacant housing might not be resolved.
Glenden business owners want Byerwen Coal employees accommodated in the town, but fear that due to the housing impasse they could be located in a camp 30 kilometres away at the new mine.
They say if the Glencore housing option fails and QCoal builds its accommodation at the mine, businesses in town will have to close their doors.
Both Glencore and QCoal have form in that they have had a bitter legal stoush over their coal leases and particularly over allegations from QCoal that Glencore was using part off its lease as a haul road. Caught in the middle are the people of Glenden.
A Glencore spokesman said it had provided QCoal with "a number of options" in regards to the housing of its staff.
"These include the purchase of homes, leasing of houses and room rental for single person's accommodation," he said.
He said any sale of the homes would have to be of a "fair value" and that any rental agreement would have to cover the capital investment and costs associated with administration and maintenance.
"Given our substantial contribution to the Glenden community with facilities such as provision of a medical centre and GP services, we are not prepared to offer accommodation free of charge," the spokesman said.
He said Glencore had made its position clear to QCoal executives at their last meeting in March.
"We have heard nothing from them since," he said.
QCoal Group's Hayden Leary says different. He said Byerwen Coal stands committed to using existing housing infrastructure in Glenden "where possible".
"Byerwen Coal approached Glencore about renting excess housing, but the request was refused," Mr Leary said.
He said Byerwen Coal could not come to a commercial arrangement with Glencore to buy houses in Glenden.
Mr Leary said Byerwen Coal owned a parcel of land in Glenden that it plans to utilise for permanent housing.
"Due to zoning this (land) will not be used for a camp," he said.
Mr Leary said Glencore had only offered camp accommodation in Glenden on a temporary basis and at rates well above market.
"As a consequence, to ensure certainty of accommodation for the construction and ramp up mining phase, Byerwen Coal is forced to put a camp adjacent to the mine," Mr Leary said.
Mr Leary said QCoal through its Byerwen Coal project supported Glenden township as much as possible.
He said a contract to undertake the bulk earthworks at Byerwen Coal had been awarded and that work would start around mid-June. He said the mine had a life in excess of 50 years.
Glenden's Newlands mine has lost more than 300 staff. It started with the coal downturn in 2013 which coincided with the exhaustion of underground reserves.
More jobs went and with the future looking uncertain, more and more miners started looking elsewhere for work.
The mine still operates as an open-cut operation, but with far less staff than in the glory days pre-dating coal's 2013's financial implosion.
Glenden is now in the new, expanded state seat of Burdekin held by the LNP's Dale Last.
Mr Last was there on Monday and saw for himself the large number of empty homes and closed businesses.
"It is a beautiful town with excellent schools and sporting facilities, but it is nearly empty. It would be great if Glencore and QCoal can strike an agreement and get people into the houses. Failing that I'd like to see QCoal build their village in the town area," he said.
"There's a critical mass that is close to being reached where you can see schools closing and services being cut back. I'm really concerned about what will happen if numbers keep dwindling. I'm sure mining companies realise there is a level of social responsibility on their part to help maintain and to provide benefit to their local communities."
Isaac Regional Council mayor Anne Baker said mining companies had a responsibility to support local towns.
"Glenden is one of our hardest hit communities. It took a hard hit when coal slumped in 2013. I'm sure things will get better and it will come back to what it was," Cr Baker said.
Service station operator Felix Omosun said business was slow in the town and that he hoped things would change for the better.