STRATEGIC REGIONAL LAND USE POLICY

 

The NSW Government’s Strategic Regional Land Use Policy is a package of measures designed to balance land use competition between agriculture and mineral and petroleum exploration and production in the State. The policy includes measures to identify and map the State’s most valuable agricultural land, and to require an additional step in the planning process for certain types of mineral and petroleum developments which are proposed on or near that land. This section outlines the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy package and its key components.

What is the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy?
 

The Strategic Regional Land Use Policy was announced by the NSW Government on 11 September 2012.

 

The objective of the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy is to manage land use competition between agriculture and the mining and petroleum industries, and to balance growth in mineral and petroleum exploration and production with protecting agricultural land and water resources.

 

The key components of the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy package are:

 

  • the identification and mapping of the State’s most valuable agricultural land, which is known as Strategic Agricultural Land.

  • a requirement that certain types of mining and petroleum developments proposed on Strategic Agricultural Land be subject to additional independent scientific assessment through the Mining and Petroleum Gateway Process before a development application can be lodged for the proposal.

  • the implementation of Coal Seam Gas Exclusion Zones.

  • the appointment of a Land and Water Commissioner to build community confidence in the processes governing mineral and petroleum exploration activities in the State, and to oversee land access arrangements between landholders and miners.

  • the introduction of an Aquifer Interference Policy to assess the impacts of mining and petroleum activities on water and to account for the water used by the mining and petroleum industries in the State’s water licensing scheme.

  • the requirement that an Agricultural Impact Statement be prepared as part of the assessment process for mineral and petroleum exploration and production proposals, and

  • the implementation of new Codes of Practice for the coal seam gas industry.

 

What is Strategic Agricultural Land?
 

The Strategic Regional Land Use Policy introduced two categories of Strategic Agricultural Land in NSW. They are:

 

  • Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land, and

  • Critical Industry Clusters.

 

The following section overviews how each is defined, but to understand the significance of land being classified Strategic Agricultural Land it is important to understand the term ‘State Significant Development’.

 

State Significant Development

To be classified as a State Significant Development, a development proposal must meet the criteria laid out in the State Environmental Planning Policy (State and Regional Development) 2011. 

 

A range of development types such as mines, manufacturing plants, warehouses, waste, tourism, education and hospital facilities are considered to be State Significant Developments.

 

Some projects may also be considered State Significant Developments because they are located in areas regarded as important by the NSW Government. These include Sydney Olympic Park and the Sydney Harbour development Barangaroo.

 

At the production stage

In practice, all coal and petroleum production developments will be a State Significant Development. For other minerals mining, there are certain criteria which the development must meet before it will be considered a State Significant Development, such as a $30 million capital investment.   

 

Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land
 

The NSW Government’s definition of Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land (also known as BSAL) is land which possesses a ‘rare combination of natural resources (which make it) highly suitable for agriculture’.[2]

 

By its nature Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land has the ‘best quality landforms, soil and water resources which are naturally capable of sustaining high levels of productivity and require minimal management practices to maintain this high quality’.

 

Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land in NSW has been identified and mapped based on key data sets covering reliable water access, land and soil capability and soil fertility.

 

In October 2013, maps were completed for 1.74 million hectares of Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land in the Upper Hunter and New England North West regions.

 

In January 2014, the NSW Government finalised mapping for an additional one million hectares of Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land in the state. These maps are regionally scaled and are not designed to be applied at a property scale. That is why the government prepared the site verification protocol.

 

For a map of the State showing mapped Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land see:

Mapped Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land in NSW

 

 

For maps of Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land for a specific area visit:

Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land Mapping

 

In April 2013 the NSW Government released an Interim Protocol for Site Verification and Mapping of Strategic Agricultural Land129 which describes the criteria for verifying Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land at a site level.

 

That interim protocol includes criteria which relate to:

 

  • access to reliable water;

  • slope;

  • rock outcrops;

  • soil fertility and soil type;

  • surface rock fragments;

  • gilgai, which are depressions or holes in the ground which drain off surface water to form a natural reservoir such as a lake or pond;

  • effective rooting depth to a physical barrier;

  • soil drainage;

  • soil acidity or alkalinity (pH);

  • salinity; and

  • effective rooting depth to a chemical barrier.

 

A review of the interim protocol has been commissioned by the NSW Government.

 

For more information on Strategic Agricultural Land see the chapter:

Is my land Strategic Agricultural Land?

 

Critical Industry Cluster
 

According to the NSW Government’s definition, a Critical Industry Cluster (also known as a CIC) is a ‘localised concentration of interrelated productive industries based on an agricultural product that provides significant employment opportunities and contributes to the identity of the region.’[iii]

 

To be within a Critical Industry Cluster, land must also have the potential to be substantially impacted by coal seam gas or mining proposals.

 

Two industries have been identified as Critical Industry Clusters – the equine and viticulture industries in the Upper Hunter. These areas have met the criteria for Critical Industry Clusters, which are:

 

  • an area with a concentration of enterprises that provides clear development and marketing advantages and is based on an agricultural product,

  • interrelated with other productive industries in the area,

  • consist of a unique combination of factors such as location, infrastructure, heritage and natural resources,

  • is of national and/or international importance,

  • is an iconic industry that contributes to the region’s identity, and

  • is potentially substantially impacted by coal seam gas or mining proposals

 

For a map of the State showing identified Critical Industry Cluster land see:

Mapped Critical Industry Clusters in NSW

 

What is the significance of land being classified as Strategic Agricultural Land?
 

For petroleum development

Proposed petroleum developments which are:

 

  • State Significant Development, and

  • proposed on land which is Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land 

 

will be required to pass through the Mining and Petroleum Gateway Process before a development application can be lodged for the proposal.

 

Future coal seam gas activities are not permitted on land which has been identified as within a Critical Industry Cluster.

 

For mining development

Proposed mining activities which are:

 

  • State Significant Developments, and

  • proposed on land which is Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land, or

  • proposed on land which is a Critical Industry Cluster 

 

will be required to pass through the Mining and Petroleum Gateway Process before a development application can be lodged for the proposal.

For more information on the Mining and Petroleum Gateway Process see the chapter: 

What happens at the Mining and Petroleum Gateway Process Stage?

 

Coal seam gas exclusion zones
 

Coal seam gas exclusion zones have been established in NSW which prohibit new coal seam gas exploration and production:

 

  1. on land within a residential zone (and within 2km),

  2. on future residential growth areas (and within 2km),

  3. on additional rural villages (and within 2km), and

  4. on Critical Industry Clusters.

 

The zonings referred to in the exclusions refer to zonings R1-R4 and RU5 in a Council’s Local Environmental Plan.

 

For a map of the State showing coal seam gas exclusion zones see:

Critical Industry Clusters and Coal Seam Gas Exclusion Zones in NSW

 

Land and Water Commissioner
 

The position of Land and Water Commissioner was established by the NSW Government in December 2012.

 

The Commissioner is a key source of information and guidance to assist landholders and communities to better understand the way that mining and gas activities are approved and regulated in NSW, and to give them a say in how things are done.

 

The Commissioner provides advice on:

  • Exploration activities and  mineral, petroleum and coal seam gas development throughout the state

  • Strategic Regional Land Use Policy

  • Regulatory approval and assessment processes

  • Compliance and enforcement matters

  • Landowner rights, access agreements and compensation

  • Rights and responsibilities of exploration companies

 

For more information on the Land and Water Commissioner see the page:

The Land and Water Commissioner

 

Aquifer Interference Policy
 

The Aquifer Interference Policy applies to all ‘aquifer interference activities’ in the State and has three main purposes:

 

  • to ensure all water used is properly licensed (unless exempt) and accounted for in the State’s water budget and in water sharing plans,

  • to set out how impacts on groundwater resources by ‘aquifer interference activities’ are assessed to ensure impacts on those systems is minimised,

  • to plan for measures in the event that actual impacts of aquifer interference activities are greater than predicted, including to require monitoring of impacts.

 

An aquifer interference activity is any of the following:

 

  • the interference with water in a groundwater aquifer

  • the obstruction of the flow of water in a groundwater aquifer, or

  • the taking or disposal of water from a groundwater aquifer in the course of minerals or petroleum exploration.

 

Mining and coal seam gas activities are both considered aquifer interference activities.

 

For more information on the Aquifer Interference Policy see the page:

 Aquifer Interference Policy

 

Agricultural Impact Statement
 

An Agricultural Impact Statement is a risk-based assessment of the potential impacts of a proposed mining or petroleum development on agricultural resources and businesses.

 

The requirement for an Agricultural Impact Statement applies to mining and petroleum exploration activity requiring approval under Part 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 and all State Significant Development applications for mining and petroleum.

 

An Agricultural Impact Statement needs to be completed whether or not the proposed mining or petroleum activity would be located on Strategic Agricultural Land.

 

For more information on Agricultural Impact Statements see the page:

Agricultural Impact Statements

 

Codes of practice for the coal seam gas industry
 

Two codes of practice for the coal seam gas industry have been developed.

 

They are:

 

  • Code of Practice for Coal Seam Gas Well Integrity, and

  • Code of Practice for Coal Seam Gas Fracture Stimulation.

 

A third code of practice for land access has been developed and is in draft form.

 

A code of practice establishes guidelines for what is best practice in a particular field.

 

All coal seam gas activities are subject of the codes as they are included in the conditions of the explorer’s title to explore in an area. Failure by an explorer to comply with the conditions of their title can result in enforcement by the NSW Government. That could include prosecution or even cancellation of the title.

[1]   State Environmental Planning Policy (State and Regional Development) 2011 (NSW) sch 1 cl 5.

[2]   NSW Government Interim protocol for site verification and mapping of biophysical strategic agricultural land (April 2013).

[3]   NSW Government Draft Guideline for site verification of critical industry clusters (2012).

[4]   NSW Government Government Unveils New Protections for Agricultural Land (11 September 2012).

 

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