The Regional Planning Interests Act 2014 (RPI Act) was passed by Parliament on 20 March 2014, with the commencement of the Act not expected to occur on 13 July 2014.

The RPI Act introduces a new regime for protecting priority agricultural areas, strategic cropping areas, priority living areas and strategic environmental areas that is described as ‘Areas of Regional Interest’. The RPI Act brings together, and expands upon the Strategic Cropping Land (SCL) legislation (to be repealed) and land use planning under Regional Plans.

Much of the operative detail for the RPI Act is contained in the RPI Regulation, current and future Regional Plans, and State mapping. An exposure draft of the RPI Regulation was released on 20 March 2014 and an amended draft Regulation was tabled in Parliament on 3 June 2014. The mapping to accompany the RPI Act has not yet been released, although some of the Areas of Regional Interest are described in the draft Regulation.

The RPI Act is intended to give greater power to regional communities and the agricultural sector in dealing with the resources sector and regulated activities. Regulated activities are specified in a regulation that is likely to have a widespread and irreversible impact on an Area of Regional Interest.

Perhaps the most fundamental change arising from the RPI Act is the move from regulating resources, to regulating land use planning. The shift is important because:

  • „„it brings forward consideration of the location of key activities in regional areas in the Regional Planning process, which considers resource activities, living areas, and agricultural assets and needs
  • „„the regulatory regime is based on the mechanisms used in urban planning for many years, which are not necessarily familiar for the resources sector, and
  • „it adds an additional approval requirement, for a ‘Regional Interests Development Approval’ (RIDA) for resource activities and regulated activities in Areas of Regional Interest.

AREAS OF REGIONAL INTEREST

Areas of Regional Interest will be declared in any one of the following instruments:

Click here to view table.

Regional Plan

The way in which an Area of Regional Interest is identified is important because the public has a role to play in identifying the areas recognised in a Regional Plan that will trigger an approval requirement under the RPI Act. The Regional Plan will be prepared under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (Qld), which requires public notification and consultation about the proposed Regional Plan and amendments to it.

Regulation

The identification or removal of Areas of Regional Interest in the Regulation or in the SCL trigger map is able to occur more quickly, and is likely to be driven by the bureaucratic and political agenda, with limited scope for direct public involvement and accountability.

SCL trigger map

Unlike the SCL Act regime, there is no process for a person to challenge the SCL trigger map. This means that if an area is mapped as SCL, then a proponent must go through the approval process even if the relevant area does not in fact meet the SCL criteria (as this will be assessed in the application process). However, as the map is simply approved by the chief executive and published online from time to time, it is very easy for the chief executive to change the mapping if minded to do so.

REGULATED ACTIVITY: BROAD ACRE CROPPING

At present, the specified regulated activity under the draft RPI Regulation are broad acre cropping or a water storage (dam) that is not for stock and domestic purposes, in a Strategic Environmental Area. The draft RPI Regulation declares Strategic Environmental Areas at Cape York, the Channel Country, Fraser Island, Gulf Rivers and Hinchinbrook Island and Regional Plans may declare other Strategic Environmental Areas.

This means that any new broad acre cropping or specified water storage dam in a Strategic Environmental Area will require approval under the RPI Act, in addition to obtaining a water allocation, vegetation clearing approval and any other project approvals.

LAND OWNER EMPOWERMENT

Agreement with owner

The RPI Act also seeks to specifically empower land owners. The term land owner includes the lessee of a lease under the Land Act 1994 (Qld) for agricultural, grazing or pastoral purposes.

A proponent of a new resource activity can avoid the need for a RIDA if there is either a conduct and compensation agreement, or a voluntary written agreement between the proponent and the land

owner, and: the resource activity is located in a Priority Agricultural Area or on Strategic Cropping Land (but not a Priority Living Area or a Strategic Environmental Area) 

  • the resource activity is not likely to have a significant impact on the Priority Agricultural Area or the Strategic Cropping Land, and „„
  • the resource activity is not likely to have an impact on land owned by a person other than the land owner, who has signed up to the agreement with the proponent.

This may provide a significant incentive for resource companies to negotiate coexistence terms with land owners in Priority Agricultural Areas or Strategic Cropping Land about their proposed projects. 

Submission and appeal rights

An application for a RIDA only requires public notification if prescribed by regulation and the chief executive has not granted an exemption based on public notification of the activity under a different approval process.

The draft RPI Regulation only requires applications involving an activity in a Priority Living Area to be publicly notified by publishing a notice in a newspaper circulating in the locality of the project. An application for a RIDA in a Priority Agricultural Area, Strategic Cropping Land or a Strategic Environmental Area will not require public notification.

However, for these applications that do not require public notification, the proponent must give a copy of the application to the land owner.

Once the chief executive has decided the application for the RIDA, the decision must be published on the department’s website or in a newspaper circulating in the locality of the project.

The decision about the RIDA may be appealed, to the Planning and Environment Court, by:

  • „„the applicant
  • „„the owner of the land, and
  • „„an affected land owner, being an owner of land that may be adversely affected by the proposed activity because of its proximity to their land, and the impact of the activity on an Area of Regional Interest.

The appeal is by way of hearing anew and the applicant has the onus to satisfy the Court that the RIDA should be granted. This appeal process is entirely separate to any appeal to the Land Court about the environmental authority or mining tenure for the project.

In addition, any person (not just a land owner or affected land owner) may apply to the Planning and Environment Court seeking declarations about a range of matters under the RPI Act.