New immediate initiatives – strategic regional land use policy

The NSW Government has recently announced the implementation of the transitional arrangements in relation to the planned implementation of its Strategic Regional Land Use Policy (Policy). The Policy is focused on managing land use conflicts in regional areas, particularly between participants in the coal mining, coal seam gas (CSG) and agricultural sectors.

The following initiatives take effect immediately:

  • A 60-day moratorium on the grant of coal, CSG and petroleum exploration licences in NSW (ELs). The purpose of the moratorium is to allow time for the new arrangements (discussed below) to be established.
  • All new applications for coal, CSG and petroleum ELs will be exhibited for public review and comment.
  • All new project applications for coal, CSG and petroleum ELs will require an agricultural impact statement that must contain a focused assessment on  the impacts of the licence on agricultural land.
  • The NSW Government will put on exhibition for public comment an aquifer interference policy that will contain new measures for better regulation of the impact of projects on groundwater.

Long-term measures will include the development of strategic regional land use plans and the development of an overarching mining and CSG policy.

Strategic regional land use plans

Work will commence in the next 12 months on the development of strategic regional land use plans for:

  • the Upper Hunter (including Gloucester)
  • New England/Northwest (including Gunnedah and Liverpool Plains)
  • Central West, and
  • the Southern Highlands.

A key aspect of the Policy is to identify strategic agricultural land and associated water resources and ensure that it is protected from the impacts of development.

The Policy states that some agricultural land and other sensitive areas exist where mining and CSG activities should not occur. Where mining and CSG activities are suitable, these should only be pursued following a stringent assessment of potential impacts.

Audit of exploration licences

It is proposed that a state-wide review the current status of ELs be conducted to ensure that holders are adhering to the conditions of their EL. The status of all ELs will be made publicly available.

Coal and Gas Policy

The Policy proposes to deal with the emergence of the CSG sector with a number of new regulatory measures. The Policy particularly focuses on the interrelationship between CSG activities (including fraccing) and aquifer resources and a reform of the project approvals system to enhance cooperation across relevant departments and agencies.

Looking forward

It is clear that the primary object of the Policy is to achieve balanced growth in regional areas, particular in areas where mining has not historically occurred and where mining and CSG projects are expected in the future to be located.

Whilst the crystallisation of the Policy in legislative reform will require close examination, the following implications require immediate assessment:

  • the extent to which the moratorium on grant of ELs might apply to current tenements, including those with pending renewals, and
  • the extent to which strategic regional land use plans will impact future development of ‘known’ resources or projects already approved or in the approval phase, and
  • the scope and requirements for an agricultural impact assessment.