The State Government in Queensland has approved mining leases for the $21.7 billion Carmichael coal mine and rail project in the state’s Galilee Basin.

Queensland Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham approved the grant of three individual mining leases at the controversial project about 160km northwest of Clermont.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it was a major step forward for the project after “extensive government and community scrutiny”.

“Some approvals are still required before construction can start and ultimately committing to the project will be a decision from Adani.”

She said stringent controls would continue to protect the environment and the Great Barrier Reef, as well as the interests of landholders and traditional owners.

Mining leases needed to be approved before Adani’s Carmichael coal project could go ahead. The Indian company reached a compensation agreement with the remaining landholder last month and has since been waiting for it to be assessed by the State Government.

Two court cases, from traditional owners and the Australian Conservation Foundation, are still ongoing.

Adani has welcomed the decision, with the company saying in a statement that it aimed to start work in 2017.

“The granting of a mining lease helps deliver the company certainty with respect to timelines, while moving to the next phase of the project, subject to the resolution of legal challenges by politically motivated activists,” the statement said.

“Adani has consistently said that what is required for its projects to proceed is certainty on approvals. This key approval helps provide that with respect to Carmichael.

“The next phase of the project, following this key approval, will see a return to the pre-engineering work that had to be suspended in 2015 with the loss of certainty on approvals timelines that had occurred at that time.

“Concurrent with that, the company will continue to finalise second-tier approvals, with the clear aim of commencing construction in calendar year 2017,” Adani said.

The development potentially offers thousands of jobs and much-needed economic benefits for the region.

The project has already been granted 16 permits at state and federal level, including six primary approvals. But the mine and its associated rail and port projects have been delayed by protracted legal challenges.