The Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) has released new separation distance guidelines – “Recommended separation distances for industrial residual air emissions” (EPA publication number 1518, March 2012). The guideline provides advice on recommended separation distances between industrial land uses that emit odour or dust, and sensitive land uses.

The “Recommended Separation Distances for Industrial Residual Air Emissions – Guideline” was released by the EPA this month and replaces the EPA publication Recommended Buffer Distances for Industrial Residual Air Emissions (1990) (AQ2/86).

The guideline provides a list of recommended minimum separation distances between industrial land uses that emit odour or dust, and sensitive land uses that aim to minimise the off-site impacts on sensitive land uses arising from unintended, industry-generated odour and dust emissions.

Unlike AQ2/86 the new guideline is more explicit about the importance of ‘reverse buffers’. That is, protecting existing industrial land use from planning decisions which allow encroachment of sensitive uses (such as residential developments).

This has been an ongoing issue in VCAT cases as the Victoria Planning Provisions and planning schemes provide little protection for existing industrial uses (there is some limited policy support in the State Planning Policy Framework and the Local Planning Policy Framework for considering impacts of new uses on existing uses when making planning decisions. For example, in clause 13.04-2 relating to impacts of development on air quality, and clause 17.02-1 in relation to industrial land development, and the Environmental Significance Overlay has been used to create buffers around some existing uses (such as sewerage treatment plants)). Previously, the terms ‘buffers’ and ‘separation distances’ were used interchangeably. However, the new guideline refers only to ‘separation distances’.

The guideline aims to support effective decision making regarding land uses, to protect human health and wellbeing, local amenity and aesthetic enjoyment, protect existing industry from encroachment by sensitive uses, and prevent land adjacent to industry from being underutilised by:

  • providing clear direction on which land uses require separation;
  • informing and supporting strategic land use planning decisions and the consideration of planning permit applications;
  • preventing new sensitive land uses from impacting on existing industrial land uses;
  • preventing new or expanded industrial land uses from impacting on existing sensitive land uses; and
  • identifying compatible land uses that can be established within a separation distance area.

The list of recommended minimum separation distances ranges from 250 metres to 5000 metres depending on the nature and scale of the industry and activity and the potential impacts of its likely emissions, and are based on a review of AQ2/86 for technical accuracy and the consideration of empirical evidence of the performance of the recommended separation distances specified in AQ2/86.

The categories of activities requiring separation distances have remained largely the same following the review. However, some new activities have been added, including open cut coal mine and storage of petroleum and hydrocarbon products, and some changes have been made to the recommended separation distances. Changes of note are a decrease in the separation distance required for premises producing more than 200 tonnes of milk per year from 250 to 100 metres and the addition of a 5,000 metre separation distance for diary stock feedlots.

The recommended separation distances are the EPA’s default minimum in the absence of a detailed, site-specific assessment for a proposed industrial or sensitive use.

The guideline states that where a variation from the recommended separation distance is sought, it should be the responsibility of the ‘agent of change’ (that is, the proponent of the proposed land use that will give rise to the consideration of separation distances) to provide evidence to the planning authority or other responsible authority that a variation from the recommended separation distances is appropriate. The ‘agent of change’ can be either the proponent of a new or expanded industrial land use or the proponent of a sensitive land use.