Land use and resources projects in the Upper Hunter and New England areas are under the microscope with the NSW Government's release of new draft plans and guidance on high-quality agricultural land, water, and mining and coal seam gas projects.

The NSW Government's Strategic Regional Land Use Policy is an attempt to balance the needs of the mining, petroleum and agricultural sectors, and those of the wider community. To help implement it, the Government has released for comment:

  • Draft Upper Hunter Strategic Regional Land Use Plan;
  • Draft New England North West Strategic Regional Land Use Plan;
  • Draft NSW Aquifer Interference Policy;
  • Draft Code of Practice for Coal Seam Gas Exploration;
  • Agricultural Impact Statement Guideline; and
  • Guideline for Community Consultation Regarding Exploration.

According to Premier Barry O'Farrell, "major mining and coal seam gas proposals on [high-quality agricultural] land will only be able to be considered if they are able to meet strict criteria as assessed by an independent panel of experts that will operate at arm’s length from government."

The draft plans provide for this "Gateway" assessment process. The Gateway process would apply to major mining and coal seam gas production proposals on, or within 2km, of mapped strategic agricultural land before those proposals even get to the development application stage.

Mapping in the Upper Hunter and the New England North West identified over 1.3 million hectares of land as strategic agricultural land.

The draft plans set out actions to minimise the effects of mining and coal seam gas projects on air quality, noise and community health, particularly dust management, and also provide frameworks for the infrastructure, housing and community services which would be needed to support expected growth in the resources industry.

The first tranche of plans and guidance is open for public comment until Thursday 3 May 2012.