In a radical overhaul of the approvals process, the Coalition’s Strategic Regional Land Use policy would effectively recognise the primacy of agricultural land in any dispute with mining interests, a major bone of contention in the Upper Hunter and Liverpool Plains regions of the state.
"We recognise there is an urgent need to strengthen the assessment of the impact of mining and coal seam gas extraction and that's why we will immediately implement a tougher process, taking a precautionary approach," shadow minister for primary industries Duncan Gay said today.
The “transition period” will involve: greater caution in granting exploration licences – a precautionary approach will be implemented to consider the appropriateness of an area for future mining; explicit agricultural impact assessments – all new mining and petroleum applicants (during this period and on an ongoing basis) will be required to undertake explicit agricultural productivity impact assessments as part of their environmental impact statement; and the introduction of the Aquifer Interference Regulation, which all development applications will be required to adhere to.
"This is about taking a triple bottom-line approach to development, which will recognise strategic agricultural land as a finite resource that must be preserved into the future," Gay said.
"While this will apply to all new exploration licences and all new mining and petroleum project applications, the policy will also take into account all existing ELs which have not yet applied for a mining licence."
Gay said the new policy would also see the removal of major up-front cash payments at the exploration stage.
"Our strategic plan will provide certainty to local communities that cumulative impacts are being taken into account and about how close mining will come to their towns and the effect that proximity will have," he said.
The NSW Coalition would prepare strategic land-use plans for the state on a regional basis using a multi-layered approach.
"Ahead of the granting of an EL, strategic land-use planning is the process that will be used to identify and define land-use priorities for different areas of land within a region," Gay said.
NSW Minerals Council chief executive Dr Nikki Williams said some aspects of the policy, if not implemented carefully, would hurt the people in regional NSW who relied on the minerals sector and associated industries. For example, the proposal to reject any mining application that might have a detrimental impact on strategic agricultural land during the transitional period was a “significant concern”
“This changes the rules midstream for anyone currently preparing a proposal for a mining project, which works against plans to ‘make New South Wales number one again’. Decisions about any development are and should be made on a case-by-case basis and that’s why we cannot support this one-size-fits-all approach,” Williams said.
She added that the proposal to increase regulation for mining projects must also be approached with due caution.
“Regulation for the sake of it will not achieve better outcomes for the environment or the community. Rather than wrapping business in more red tape, we’re calling on the Coalition to improve the effectiveness of the current system,” Williams said.
“The Coalition must also follow through on its commitment to resource this strategy and the agencies that will oversee the dismantling of the planning system and implement this enormous reform. The size of this task should not be underestimated and if it is not done properly, in consultation with the affected industries and communities, it will fail.”