But the move has failed to win over coal mine developers in the state amid concerns of another layer of bureaucracy which could hinder mine approvals.
The national partnership agreement – which will deliver the NSW government $17.5 million over three years – means the federal expert scientific committee would provide extra advice to the NSW state “gateway” panel for applications on strategic agricultural land.
A gateway is an upfront assessment undertaken by an independent panel of experts who make a determination, at arm’s length from government, on whether mining and coal seam gas production projects should proceed on strategic agricultural land.
Major mining and coal seam gas production proposals on, or within 2km, of mapped strategic agricultural land will need to go through the stringent new “gateway” process.
NSW minister for planning and infrastructure Brad Hazzard yesterday released the draft regional land use policy and newly mapped regional land use plans for the Upper Hunter and New England northwest regions.
“This is the first time in the state’s history that strategic agricultural land has been mapped, made available and given greater protection from mining proposals,” Hazzard said.
“We’re announcing a draft proposal for the delivery of a strategic regional land-use policy to ensure prime agricultural land and critical industry clusters like the thoroughbred and wine industries are safeguarded.”
As foreshadowed in ILNlast week, the New England region – where Shenhua’s Watermark project lies – has been designated as a priority area with over 1.3 million hectares identified as “strategic agricultural land”
Mapping by the NSW government has identified where agricultural land overlaps with coal, gas and other mineral resources in this region.
Projects must now be approved by both the state government’s gateway panel and the federal government’s expert scientific committee before they can get to the development application stage.
The new measures add to regulation and the gateway assessment appears to duplicate processes already in place, chief executive of the NSW Minerals Council Stephen Galilee said.
“It includes the addition of yet another expert panel to decide early in the process whether a proposal can proceed to a second stage with advice from the federal government’s independent expert panel,” he said.
“It’s extremely concerning that this new state-based panel would decide whether a mining proposal can be developed without having actually seen a full mining proposal.”
The mapping of industries and resources could also cause confusion and create more uncertainty, Galilee said.
“The definition of critical industry clusters is questionable given the definition in the plans exclude coal itself, surely one of the most critical industry clusters in the state, and particularly in the Upper Hunter,” he said.
“And coal resources are defined and mapped too broadly, not accounting for whether those resources can be recovered economically, giving a false impression about the future development of the industry.”
The gateway assessment also includes the introduction of strict new controls to protect groundwater and aquifers.