On 11 September 2012 the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy (“SRLUP”) was released. Strategic Regional Land Use Plans for the New England North West and the Upper Hunter have been completed. The policy is the Government’s solution to allowing agriculture to co-exist with mining and Coal Seam Gas (“CSG”) activities.
Under the SRLUP, proposed mining and CSG activities on high value “strategic” agricultural land will have to pass the “Gateway Process” where each project will be assessed by independent experts before proceeding to development application stage.
There are two categories of Strategic Agricultural Land:
- Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land – based on the inherent qualities of the land; and
- Critical industry clusters – based on the land’s importance to a highly significant and clustered industry such as wine making and horse breeding.
The Key In itiatives of the policy are set out in the table below.
The position of a Land and Water Commissioner has been introduced to have an unfettered oversight and community advisory role with respect to exploration across the State.
A requirement has now been put into place for the preparation of an Agricultural Impact Statement for specific assessment of agricultural impacts at the exploration stage. This will allow the government to assess the potential agricultural impacts at the outset of the proposal and ensure that even the preliminary exploration activities do not adversely impact on valuable agricultural and water resources.
There is now a requirement for significant mining or coal seam gas proposals within biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land to verify whether the land they are on meets the criteria for biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land if the land is within the Strategic Regional Land Use Plan regions but not located within the mapped Strategic Agricultural Land. If it is found to meet the criteria then it will be required to go through the Gateway Process. Landowners, whether they are within or outside of the Upper Hunter and New England North West regions will also be able to apply for verification of whether their land meets the criteria for biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land. If the land meets the criteria they will then be required to go through the Gateway Process.
The Gateway is an independent, scientific and upfront assessment of the impacts of State significant mining and CSG proposals on Strategic Agricultural Land that will be undertaken before a proposal can proceed to the lodgement of a development application. The Gateway process applies to State significant mining and CSG proposals on Strategic Agricultural Land that extend beyond an existing mining or petroleum production lease area or where a new lease is required.
The previous ‘exceptional circumstances’ provision that allowed certain mining or CSG production projects to bypass the Gateway process has now been removed.
The Gateway process was designed to only take into account the scientific assessment of land and water impacts of projects. Other factors such as socio-economic impacts and benefits of the proposal will not be considered until the DA stage of the process.
A Gateway panel of independent experts will undertake the assessment and for a proposal to proceed to the DA stage, either a conditional or unconditional Gateway Certificate must be issued.
If an unconditional certificate is issued, the proposal may proceed to the DA stage. If the panel considers that a proposal does not meet the Gateway criteria it will issue a certificate with conditions tailored to address the proposal’s likely impacts. The proposals will then proceed to the development application stage where the matters raised in the conditions of the gateway certificate must be fully addressed, which may require the proposal to be amended.
The following flowchart shows how the Gateway Process will work.
Strategic Regional Land Use Plans and Mapping of Strategic Agricultural Land
Mapping has been completed and Strategic Regional Land Use Plans released for the Upper Hunter and New England North West regions. Mapping for the Central West and Southern Highlands has commenced and Western, Murrumbidgee and Alpine will commence in 2013. The regional strategies that are to be reviewed and updated over the next two years are Far North Coast, Mid North Coast, Lower Hunter, Central Coast, Illawarra, South Coast, Sydney-Canberra Corridor and Murray.
Land within the mapped areas will be a trigger for the Gateway Process.
Aquifer Interference Policy
An Aquifer Interference Policy has been introduced to protect the State’s crucial water resources through the assessment of potential impacts associated with mining and CSG activities. The policy applies state-wide, not just to land mapped as Strategic Agricultural Land.
The policy now provides that a water access licence is required to be held for any exploration activities taking more than three megalitres per year. The policy also provides minimal impact considerations with regard to the potential impacts of all proposals to the states groundwater systems, which are to be assessed by the NSW Office of Water.