Reactions to the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy
The NSW Government has today released its long-awaited Strategic Regional Land Use Policy.
With the mining industry continuing to grow in regional areas of the State and CSG beginning to emerge as a new energy resource in NSW, it is crucial the proper framework is in place for the protection of our valuable agricultural land.
The Strategic Regional Land Use Policy is the NSW Government’s response to this challenge.
- NSW Government, 11 Sept 2012
Here is what various stakeholders had to say about the land use policy…
The NSW Government – Minister for Planning Brad Hazzard, Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner
Government Unveils New Protections For Agricultural Land
For the first time in the State’s history, the NSW Government is protecting prime agricultural land and water resources while providing greater certainty for landholders and the resources industry.
The Strategic Regional Land Use Policy released today includes 27 new measures designed to provide greater protections for farmers and to better balance competing land uses.
Minister for Planning Brad Hazzard said the package of initiatives provides comprehensive protection for valuable agricultural land and water resources, while allowing for the responsible development of the State’s resources.
“The previous Labor government failed to protect our valuable agricultural land or deliver certainty for the resources industry. Since last year’s election, we have been working hard to strike the right balance to protect agricultural land, water and the environment, and believe this policy achieves that balance,” Mr Hazzard said.
The Policy, which has been the subject of extensive community and stakeholder engagement, extends well beyond the NSW Liberals & Nationals’ pre-election commitments.
The Strategic Regional Land Use Policy achieves protection and balance through:
- Identification of Strategic Agricultural Land so that proposed projects must go through the new Gateway process, an independent, scientific and upfront assessment of the impacts of mining and CSG production proposals;
- A new Land and Water Commissioner to restore community confidence in the processes governing exploration activities in NSW and to oversee land access agreements between landholders and miners;
- An Aquifer Interference Policy that uses science to assess and protect water resources across the entire State;
- The requirement for an Agricultural Impact Statement as part of the assessment of exploration proposals;
- New Codes of Practice for the coal seam gas (CSG) industry, covering well drilling standards and hydraulic fracturing;
- Standard land access agreements to ensure fair outcomes for landowners;
- Additional compliance resources (40 positions) to ensure the tough new standards are met; and
- CSG producers to invest in local communities through Regional Community Funds.
Mr Hazzard said that changes to the Policy had been made following an extensive period of consultation during which over 2,000 submissions were received and over 1,100 people attended public forums and information sessions.
Key changes made following the release of the draft Strategic Regional Land Use Policy and consultation with farmers, the resources industry, councils, environmental groups and local communities also include:
- The Aquifer Interference Policy now applies statewide and is no longer restricted to Strategic Agricultural Land.
- The “exceptional circumstances” provision that would have allowed certain mining or CSG projects to bypass the Gateway has been scrapped.
- The amount of Strategic Agricultural Land mapped for protection in the Upper Hunter and New England North West regions has increased by 670,000 hectares to over two million hectares.
- The amount of Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land in the New England North West region has been increased by a significant 60 per cent. Some land with moderate soil fertility has been included, which captures the important cotton producing areas around Gunnedah, Moree and Narrabri.
- In the Upper Hunter, the Viticulture Critical Industry Cluster has increased from 53,292 ha to 107,135 ha, and the Equine Critical Industry Cluster has increased from 183,452 ha to 233,286 ha. In response to submissions, the Viticulture Critical Industry Cluster now includes grape growing areas around Denman and the criteria for the Equine Critical Industry Cluster now
- includes land up to 18 degrees in slope.
“Recognising that mining operations require investment certainty, the Gateway process will focus on proposals which extend beyond the boundaries of an existing mining lease or where a new lease is required,” Mr Hazzard said.
“All mining proposals, whether subject to the Gateway or not, will still go through a full merit assessment process – including community consultation – when they lodge a development application.”
Over two million hectares of Strategic Agricultural Land has already been identified across the Upper Hunter and New England North West regions, with mapping of the Central West and Southern Highlands underway and other areas of the State, including the North Coast, also to be mapped.
Minister for Resources and Energy Chris Hartcher said, “We have spent the last 16 months introducing stringent new controls to regulate the industry and have considered feedback from the consultation process before any coal seam gas exploration licences are renewed.”
With the CSG industry now subject to the strictest controls in Australia, the Government will commence the exploration licence renewals process by making offers of renewal to a number of CSG companies across the State.
NSW Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner said the creation of a new Land and Water Commissioner to oversee the regulation of exploration activity right across the State, the creation of Regional Community Funds and the removal of the royalty holiday for CSG producers would restore community confidence in the processes governing CSG exploration and production activities.
“The Commissioner will provide independent advice to the community regarding exploration activities and will facilitate greater consultation between Government, the community and industry,” Mr Stoner said.
“The Strategic Regional Land Use Policy empowers landholders and communities, particularly in relation to exploration activity, and requires the mining and coal seam gas industries across NSW to meet higher standards.
“I would like to thank the farmers, miners, vignerons, horse stud owners and many other stakeholders who have contributed to the development of these policies, which sees NSW now boast the strongest regulation of coal seam gas exploration in Australia.”
Minister for Primary Industries Katrina Hodgkinson said, “The Aquifer Interference Policy is a critical step to protect our valuable groundwater systems from potential impacts of mining and coal seam gas exploration and extraction. This Policy works hand-in-glove with the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy to ensure we have the best available science and information protecting our water.”
The Strategic Regional Land Use Policy, Upper Hunter & New England North West Plans and Maps, Aquifer Interference Policy, CSG Codes of Practice, fact sheets and frequently asked questions are available online at www.nsw.gov.au/strategicregionallanduse. The list of proposed offers of renewal is available at http://www.resources.nsw.gov.au/titles/status-reports.
The Agriculture Industry – NSW Farmers Association
Government caves in to mining and energy lobby
NSW Farmers’ Association is bitterly disappointed the NSW Government has caved in to the powerful mining and energy lobby on its much anticipated land and water protections.
The association’s president, Ms Fiona Simson said: “What we and thousands of city and country people wanted more than anything else from this government was our land and water to be protected.”
“What did we get? We got an incomplete package with watered down water protections and a virtual green light for exploration and mining right across most of the state.”
Ms Simson said not only had the government broken an election promise – it had ignored the wishes of thousands of city and country people who marched to Parliament House on 1 May. It had also ignored more than 1,500 submissions asking the government to do a very reasonable thing – protect our land and water.
The government released its final draft of its strategic regional land use policy package today which sets out the framework for the assessment of all mining and CSG licences in the future in NSW.
Ms Simson said that after decades of lack of strategic planning in exploration and mining licences, the Coalition Government had made some important steps forward.
“But unfortunately, like many other governments, it has caved into the mining and energy lobby at the expense of our state’s natural resources,” she said.
“This issue is not just something that affects farmers. It has the potential to affect everyone in our communities. That’s why we’ll be continuing to fight hard for stronger protections for our land and water.
“We will also be seeking a commitment from the government to review these policies within the next two years to see if they are making a positive difference and amend them accordingly. It is the least the people of NSW deserve.”
Some 87 percent of the community surveyed by Newspoll in June 2012 were in favour of excluding mining and coal seam gas from parts of our agricultural land.
Agriculture contributed more than $14.5 billion or 3.4 percent to the NSW economy in the year ended June 2011. There are more than 43,500 farm businesses in NSW with farming land covering more than 72 percent of the state.
The CSG Industry – Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA)
Tougher regulations will mean more costs and delays but finally allow for new jobs and investment
More regulations around the production of natural coal seam gas in NSW will cause project delays and increase costs for industry, the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) warned today.
The NSW Strategic Regional Land Use Plan released by the State Government is a regulatory regime aimed at ensuring a safe and secure gas industry for NSW but one that will ultimately delay approval processes for projects by up to three months.
APPEA Chief Executive David Byers said: “We are now without question one of the most heavily regulated industries in Australia. There is an enormous obligation placed on energy companies through this policy.
“This package of new regulations contains 27 elements that will lead to drawn-out assessment processes with increased security deposits and fees.
“While industry can now finally start investing in exploration, job creation and investment for NSW regional communities, we need to recognise that these regulations will force up costs and delay projects.
“Around 95 per cent of gas used in NSW by households and businesses comes from interstate, yet the potential to develop local reserves will not only create thousands of jobs but also contribute millions of dollars annually through royalty streams.
“Industry has effectively been stalled in NSW for the best part of two years. Our latest quarterly data shows employment positions in the NSW CSG industry increased by just 39 positions to 332 in the first half of this year and exploration has been brought to a standstill.
“That’s in stark contrast to Queensland where 18,500 people are now working on CSG to LNG projects worth $50 billion. Almost 7000 jobs have been added to the Queensland gas sector in the first half of 2012.”
Mr Byers described the appointment of a Land and Gas Commissioner as an important link between all stakeholders, particularly between landholders and gas companies.
“We recognise that our success as an industry will depend on maintaining the trust of the communities in which we operate. The appointment of a Land and Water Commissioner will help ensure the industry’s benefits are delivered to local communities and the issues that are important to them are addressed.”
The use of BTEX chemicals for hydraulic fracturing is currently banned in Queensland and industry supports similar action for NSW.
The Gas Company – Metgasco
NSW Government Gives Metgasco the Green Light
The NSW Government today announced a series of new regulations for the coal seam gas industry and the renewal of Metgasco’s Petroleum Exploration Licences 13 and 16. It also announced the granting of Metgasco’s first Petroleum Production Lease. Mr Peter Henderson, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Metgasco Ltd, welcomed the news.
“The announcement today of the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy (SRLUP), the Aquifer Interference Policy, Code of Practice and new well integrity standards sends a clear message that the NSW Government is 100% behind this industry,” Mr Henderson said.
“The NSW community should be confident now that yet another state government has thoroughly assessed the industry and given CSG a green light,” Mr Henderson said.
“With the issuing of a Land Access Code of Conduct, which sets out the rights of landholders with respect to CSG activity, the SRLUP and the Aquifer Interference Policy, Northern Rivers farmers and the broader community can take great confidence that our industry is safe and can co-exist with agriculture and other land uses,” Mr Henderson said.
“The announcement sends a message from the Government that NSW is open for business and that CSG will play a key role in future development of the state’s economy and future energy needs,” Mr Henderson said.
“It was disappointing that the industry had received so much unfounded criticism, creating unnecessary concerns in the community. The NSW Government has responded to these concerns by conducting detailed reviews and developing new regulations and community consultation processes. This policy work has caused significant delays for the industry in NSW. Furthermore, the time taken to complete the new policies has allowed community concerns to escalate.
Metgasco will need to learn to live with the new regulations and processes. We expect that time will show that some of the new requirements are unnecessarily restrictive and that approval processes are cumbersome, adding unnecessary costs to the industry,” Mr Henderson said.
“CSG is a safe and environmentally attractive industry that can provide economic benefits in NSW and play an important role in securing energy supplies for NSW.” Mr Henderson said.
Another CSG Company – Santos
The NSW Government’s release of the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy confirms the regulatory regime for both exploration and future development of the state’s energy resources, but substantially increases the regulatory burden on the industry, Santos said today.
Santos acknowledges and accepts that the policy package ensures that there are independent, science-based assessment and decision processes for natural gas projects, and establishes guidelines for interaction of the resources industry and other land uses.
While the policy recognises the important role that the natural gas industry will play in encouraging investment and jobs growth in regional communities and meeting the state’s energy needs, the new regulatory regime will be both time consuming and challenging to work within.
“Combined with the already extensive State and Commonwealth regulations, today’s announcement makes the approvals process in NSW the most rigorous in the country,” Santos Vice President Eastern Australia, James Baulderstone, said.
“A positive note is that the Government will make offers of renewal on a number of Petroleum Exploration Licences (PELs), including PEL 238 near Narrabri. The renewal of these licences is critical to securing NSW’s future energy needs.
“We need to review the detail, however the Government’s announcements today will enable us to progress our exploration program with the drilling of up to 50 wells over the next three years.
As previously outlined, we need to obtain additional data which can only be done through exploration to provide answers to questions and concerns about any localised impacts from individual projects.”
“With a strengthened regulatory regime, the recent Namoi Catchment Water Study showing no harmful impacts on regional water volumes from large-scale CSG developments, and with new land access and compensation arrangements in place, the community, farmers and business can be confident that CSG and agriculture can beneficially co-exist,” Mr Baulderstone stated.
“It is essential that the Government now manage its regulatory package to eliminate the significant risk of process duplication and unnecessary, costly delays to otherwise viable and beneficial resources projects.”
The Industry Opponents – Lock the Gate Alliance
The gate stays locked after ‘appalling’ Strategic Regional Land Use Policy
The Lock the Gate Alliance reacted to today’s announcement of the NSW government’s Strategic Regional Land Use Policy by saying that gates across the state would remain locked to coal and coal seam gas mining.
Lock the Gate Alliance president, Drew Hutton, said he felt very few, if any, of the more than 100 community action groups around the state would be unlocking their gates in the wake of the government’s announcement.
“This is an appalling policy and is nothing more than an invitation for high-impact, polluting activities to come on to almost any part of the state.
“The Gateway process is based on the assumption that resource extraction should not be ruled out anywhere, regardless of whether it comes on to good farm land or areas of high conservation value, endangers vulnerable aquifers, or is important for various key industries such as viticulture and horse breeding.
“Irrigators will be especially angry that aquifer interference measures have been downgraded from a regulation to a policy, leaving it as relatively toothless.
“The government has also removed the triple bottom line approach it promised to apply to all resource developments so that the only criteria likely to be applied to any new project are economic ones.
“Despite its denials the State Government has reneged on its promises before the last election and we will hold them accountable.
“Mr O’Farrell and Mr Hartcher can give out as many exploration licences as they like but neither coal nor coal seam gas industries have a social licence to bring their activities into inappropriate areas and so landowners will continue to lock the gate and, where appropriate, block the gate to these unwelcome companies,” Mr Hutton said.
“This is really only the start of the fight, not the end of it.”
The Regional Community – an alliance of farming and environmental from north west NSW
Regional Land Use Plan Fails North-West NSW, Breaks Election Promises
An alliance of farming and environment groups from north-west NSW have rejected the Regional Land Use Plans released by the NSW Government today, saying that they have abandoned rural communities to deliver business as usual for coal and gas companies.
“These plans give the green light to the destruction of our finest food-producing land and the contamination of our most precious water resources, including the Great Artesian Basin” said Anne Kennedy of the Great Artesian Basin Protection Group.
“The plans do not protect our communities or our future because the serious health risks that come from coal and gas mining have still not been assessed” she said.
“This policy provides certainty for miners but uncertainty for communities: the triple bottom line, no-go zones and ring fences are all gone along with the pre-election commitments of the O’Farrell Government” said Phil Laird, spokesperson for Maules Creek Community Council.
“Coal and gas exploration licences in our region cover more than 6 million hectares of land and not one hectare is securely protected from further damage under this plan” said David Quince of the Mullaley Gas Pipeline Accord.
“Even the Liverpool Plains, the foodbowl of the nation, is not safe and will be available for mining once the company has been through an extra ‘gateway’ process”.
“It is also open slather for mining in our natural assets under this plan with development allowed in iconic forests such as Pilliga and Leard State Forests” said Jane Judd from Friends of the Pilliga.
“This policy does not resolve the land use conflict in rural NSW and we can expect a lot more of communities standing up for their land and water” said Carmel Flint, regional co-ordinator with Lock The Gate Alliance.
“Barry O’Farrell might have opened the gateway to the reckless expansion of coal and gas mining in NSW but the miners can still expect to find the gates locked when they approach farmers in north-west NSW” she said.
The Greens – NSW MLC Jeremy Buckingham
O’Farrell sides with miners and abandons election promise to protect farms & water
The Greens NSW spokesperson on mining and agriculture Jeremy Buckingham today slammed the O’Farrell Government for abandoning its pre-election commitment to rule out certain agricultural and other sensitive areas from mining and gas extraction in its Strategic Regional Land Use Policy.
“Barry O’Farrell has declared war on the farmers of NSW and completely ignored their concerns,” said Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham.
“Despite his clear election promise to protect farms and water he has given the green light to the coal and gas industry. Not one inch of NSW will be off-limits to mining and gas development – instead a gateway will provide a pathway to mining.
“The community expected the O’Farrell Government to rule out mining on productive agricultural lands and sensitive environmental areas. The government has betrayed this promise today.
“This policy will not stop coal or gas mining on our precious food producing land like the Liverpool and Moore Plains, the suburbs of Sydney or our drinking water catchments.
“The moratorium on fracking has been lifted without the community being shown any evidence from the Government’s so called independent scientific studies of this technology.
“The Aquifer Interference Regulation has been downgraded to a mere policy, meaning our precious groundwater sources will not be protected by legally binding regulations.
“It is troubling that all biodiversity land mapping has been removed from the landuse plans meaning that the Pilliga and Leards Forests and other sensitive environmental lands are completely left out from these new arrangements.
“The Liberal and National Parties have sided with the miners. The Greens stand with the community calling for the protection of our productive agricultural land, water supplies, environmental assets and the health of the community.”
The Environmental Campaigners – The Wilderness Society
Land Use Plan fail: O’Farrell election promise out the window, backflips on environment, water and communities
The Wilderness Society is deeply concerned by the release today of the New England North West Strategic Regional Land Use Plan as it fails to deliver on O’Farrell’s promise to protect sensitive natural areas from the rapid expansion of coal and gas facing NSW.
“Shockingly, the biodiversity maps created by the NSW Government have been wiped from the final plan,” said Naomi Hogan, campaigner for The Wilderness Society.
“The Pilliga Forest, a nationally significant biodiversity hotspot and largest remaining temperate woodland in Eastern Australia can now conveniently be trashed by coal seam gas mining.
“The Pilliga Forest was declared by the NSW Government to be Tier One Terrestrial Biodiversity – a biodiversity hotspot. Now, it is completely ignored and open for mining destruction.
“This policy leaves all of NSW’s most precious natural areas under increased threat from coal and gas mining – nowhere is safe. It is a slap in the face to the people of NSW care about our iconic bushland and want healthy waterways,” she said.
“Coal seam gas operations currently have the potential to take place right up the border of National Parks, and in some cases underneath,” said Belinda Fairbrother NSW Campaigners Manager for the Wilderness Society.
“The absence of Robyn Parker, Minister for the Environment, from today’s release of the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy highlights the complete disregard of the natural environment by the NSW Government.
“Ms Parker has missed the announcement of the first stage of the NSW Government’s comprehensive coastal reforms, the draft Renewable Energy Action Plan and now the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy – all critical environmental issues in need of leadership.”
Prior to the last election the NSW Liberals and National Party’s stated in their draft Land Use Strategy that they ‘believe that agricultural land and other sensitive areas exist in NSW where mining and coal seam gas extraction should not occur’.
“Outright protection must be afforded to the Pilliga Forest for its nationally significant ecological values. The Pilliga Forest is too precious to destroy for coal seam gas mining.
The NSW Irrigators’ Council
Water Unprotected from Mining and CSG
The New South Wales Irrigators Council says it is profoundly disappointed at the Aquifer Interference Policy released today by the NSW Government.
Council Chief Executive Officer Andrew Gregson says the downgrading of Aquifer Interference from Regulation to Policy is the final admission from the Government that the “rules” don’t apply to anyone.
“We’ve worked on this for nearly two years. We started from the perspective that we needed to find a way to allow mining and coal seam gas to coexist with irrigated agriculture whilst protecting water resources from damage.
“The Government came up with a decent set of Rules in the last Draft – but gave so many exemptions that those Rules effectively applied to nobody.
“Now – quite unbelievably – they’ve downgraded those rules. They’re no longer a Regulation from which operators need to seek an exemption – they’re now merely a policy that is unenforceable and effectively meaningless.
“Perhaps the best analysis of the new ‘policy’ is to consider the wording – where the last version used ‘must’, the new version uses ‘should’ and ‘may’.
“The Government promised us a Regulation. They’ve delivered something hardly more than guidelines. It’s disappointing, it’s not useful and it’s unacceptable. We’re in the unfortunate position of having to call on the Upper House to intervene.”
The Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders
Process Not Protection – Thoroughbred Breeders Put Government on Notice
The NSW Government repeated its promise to protect the Hunter Valley’s internationally significant thoroughbred breeding industry when it released its Strategic Land Use Policy today.
“After 18 months of work all we have is the Government’s word that our industry will be protected because the Policy released today provides no certainty or security for the future. It includes a lot of process but does not provide the certainty and protection we were promised.” Dr Cameron Collins, President, Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association said.
“No-where in the world are iconic thoroughbred breeding operations not protected from land use conflicts and encroachment.” he said.
“Landholders are faced with a future of process, cost, stress and uncertainty. This Policy leaves landholders to fight it out with mining companies, mining project by mining project.” Dr Collins said.
“We have no confidence about what the future holds. The Government hasn’t solved the land use conflict in the Hunter Valley. The only thing we can be confident about is that we have a long and hard process in front of us and that land use conflicts will escalate.” Dr Collins said.
The first test of the Government’s new land use policy will be on one of a dozen existing exploration licenses applications in the Hunter Valley that will directly impact the equine critical industry cluster, including:
1. the decision on Anglo American’s Drayton South Open Cut Coal Mine proposal which is 500 metres from thoroughbred breeding operations near Jerrys Plains;
2. the Government’s decision on the renewal of the Bickham Exploration Licences which expired on 27 May 2012;
3. the future of the Doyles Creek underground mining project, and other projects which are the subject of current ICAC inquiries.
“If any mining project is approved within the equine cluster it will be a breach of the Government’s commitment and proof that our industry is not protected. At that point it will be too late. ” Dr Collins said.