The resource sector is to face new planning controls under the proposed Regional Planning Interests Act, which will make resources activities subject to land use planning policies for the first time in Queensland.
Regional Planning Interests Bill
Following the recent commencement of new regional plans for Central Queensland and Darling Downs under the Sustainable Planning Act, the Queensland government has introduced a bill for new regional planning legislation to be known as the Regional Planning Interests Act (proposed Act).
The new legislation is intended to manage the impact of resource activities and other regulated activities on areas of the State that contribute, or are likely to contribute, to Queensland’s economic, social and environmental prosperity.
The focus of the new legislation is on managing resource activities and potential conflicts with other regionally significant land uses, such as highly productive agricultural land. This is to be done by introducing new approval requirements for resource activities and regulated activities proposed to be carried out in areas of regional interest.
This is a significant policy shift and introduces a new level of regulation on resource activities that has not previously applied in Queensland.
New controls on resource activities
Resource activities under the following Acts (resource Acts) will be affected by the proposed Act:
- Mineral Resources Act
- Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act
- Petroleum Act
- Geothermal Energy Act
- Greenhouse Gas Storage Act.
Under the proposed Act, resource activities will be prohibited in areas of regional interest unless a regional interests authority is held under the proposed Act, or the activity is subject to a relevant exemption.
Very substantial penalties will apply to persons who carry out activities contrary to the proposed Act with a maximum penalty of $3,437,500 for a corporation and $687,500 or 5 years’ imprisonment for an individual.
Areas of regional interest
Under the proposed Act, there are 4 types of ‘areas of regional interest’ being:
- Priority agricultural areas
- Priority living areas
- Strategic cropping areas
- Strategic environmental areas.
Priority agricultural areas
A priority agricultural area is an area shown on a map in a regional plan as a priority agricultural area or prescribed under a regulation. The recently commenced new regional plans for Central Queensland and Darling Downs identify priority agricultural areas.
Priority living areas
A priority living area is an area shown on a map in a regional plan as a priority living area with the new regional plans for Central Queensland and Darling Downs identifying priority living areas.
Strategic cropping areas
A strategic cropping area is an area shown on the SCL trigger map as strategic cropping land or potential cropping land. The SCL trigger map is the map approved by the chief executive (natural resources) and published on the website of the natural resources department.
Strategic environmental areas
A strategic environmental area is an area with strategic environmental value shown on a map in a regional plan as a strategic environmental area or prescribed under a regulation.
Regional interests authorities
A regional interests authority is required to carry out a resource activity or regulated activity in an area of regional interest. The proposed Act contains a new standalone application and approval process that is separate to development approvals under the Sustainable Planning Act and environmental authorities under the Environmental Protection Act.
The application and approval process for regional interests authorities has a range of requirements, including:
- Mandatory information requirements for applications
- Public notification of particular applications
- Submission rights
- Referral of applications
- Requirements for further information
- Decision making rules and conditioning powers.
The proposed Act provides for appeals about regional interests authorities to be made to the Planning and Environment Court by:
- The applicant
- If the applicant is not the owner of the land, the owner of the land
- An affected land owner.
Exempt resource activities
However, a number of exemptions apply to need to obtain a regional interests authority. These include:
- If a conduct and compensation agreement applies and the activity is not likely to have significant impact on the priority agricultural area and is not likely to have an impact on land owned by another person
- For an activity for a priority agricultural area or strategic cropping area, if the activity is being carried out for less than one year and any impact of the activity on the area is restored within the one year period
- A pre-existing resource activity carried out in accordance with a resource activity work plan
- The activity is a small scale mining activity within the meaning of the Environmental Protection Act.
Relationship with other legislation
The proposed Act will apply despite any resource Act, the Environmental Protection Act, the Sustainable Planning Act or the Water Act and a restriction or requirement under the proposed Act will apply in addition to any restriction or requirement under these other Acts.
The operation of the proposed Act is dependent upon regulations that are still to be drafted and bill has been referred to the State Development, Infrastructure and Industry Committee of Parliament for consideration.