The growth of resource and development projects in Queensland over the last few years has seen the Queensland government’s protection of high quality rural areas come under increasing scrutiny. This growing need to balance the competing interests of mining, farming and other developments has resulted in a push by the Queensland government to implement legislative protection measures for good quality agricultural land.
Following the release of the various legislative instruments including the policy paper, “Protecting Queensland's strategic cropping land: A policy framework (SCL framework)” (released 23 August 2011), Assessment Criteria, a draft State Planning Policy and Trigger maps, on 25 October 2011 the Queensland government introduced the Strategic Cropping Land Bill 2011 (“SCL Bill”) into Queensland Parliament.
The aims of the SCL Bill are stated as (i) the protection of strategic cropping land (“SCL”), (ii) management of the impacts of development on SCL and (iii) preservation of the productive capacity of SCL for future generations.
Under the SCL Bill, areas of SCL will be categorised as either “Protection Zone” (requiring a higher level of regulation) or “Management Zone”. Developments in a Protection Zone which have the effect of permanently alienating land will be completely prohibited, and development in a Management Zone may only proceed subject to conditions.
Some key provisions of the SCL Bill include:
- Exclusions - the legislation will not apply to certain activities including road construction and maintenance and electricity transmission infrastructure. The Act will also exclude certain areas such as strategic port land under the Transport Infrastructure Act 1994 (Qld) and the use of land in declared State development areas. However, under the SCL Bill, declared ‘infrastructure facilities of significance’ under State development legislation will not be excluded from the operation of the new regime.
- Permanent impacts on SCL - the carrying out of development on SCL or potential SCL will be deemed to have a “permanent impact” if it involves open cut mining, storing hazardous mines waste (including tailings dams) or where the carrying out of the development impedes the land from being cropped for at least 50 years.
- Exceptional circumstances - where development is deemed to have a permanent impact within a protection area, the development may still be allowed in “exceptional circumstances” if a proponent makes an application demonstrating that the development will be of an “overwhelmingly significant opportunity of benefit to the State” or, where “the benefit outweighs the State’s interest to protect the land.” The test to satisfy for an exceptional circumstances application is an onerous one and one which is unlikely to be satisfied easily.
- Enforcement and compliance - there are numerous compliance and enforcement provisions contained in the SCL Bill, including the power to issue compliance notices and significant penalties for non compliances.
Consequences for projects
The SCL Bill has major implications for existing and future resource and development projects in Queensland including:
- A need for proponents to invest upfront costs to assess SCL areas which may traverse / impact on a project area;
- A potential need to amend project proposals and reduce the scale of activities;
- A need for proponents to seek exemptions (which will only be given in limited circumstances);
- The potential risk of refusal of projects which may impact on SCL; and
- Uncertainty around the scope of impacts on proposals and/or existing resources where projects are in their early stages of development (i.e. exploration phase).
Chapter 9 of the SCL Bill sets out various transitional arrangements which we have previously covered off in our Mallesons Alert dated 10 June 2011 which can be accessed here.
The SCL Bill will take effect on 30 January 2012 or the date of assent, whichever is the later.
A copy of the SCL Bill is available here.