State releases land use policy

NEARLY 18 months after imposing a moratorium on coal-seam gas approvals in New South Wales, the State Government has released its Strategic Regional Land Use policy.

The policy was the result of a long consultation period which garnered more than 2000 public submissions and saw more than 1100 people attend public forums.

Planning Minister Brad Hazzard and North Coast Minister Don Page were this week promoting the policy as a world's-best package aiming to find the balance between the environment, resources and farming sectors.

It will create maps of the state's best agricultural land based on the soil type, slopes and local characteristics such as land, water flows, water licences and agricultural production values.

While some regions have already been completed, consultation on the maps for the Far North and Mid North coasts will not begin until early next year.

Once mapped, the new regional plans will create a "gateway trigger", demanding all resource projects undergo an upfront assessment at the start of the exploration process, rather than as part of the production licence application.

The gateway process will mean resource projects in mapped areas will have to meet criteria to go ahead on the basis of a scientific assessment by an "independent, expert panel".

Until the maps are officially approved, the North Coast regions will be relying on the existing regional land-use plans.

Despite the wait, all mining and CSG proposals will have to assess any impacts on farming, as part of an agriculture impact statement (AIS).

This statement will form part of the normal mining and CSG proposal application process, and should mean all projects address various issues. The new Aquifer Interference Policy will apply to the North Coast as part of its expansion across the state.

While the package has not changed the current ban on BTEX chemical use, it has again opened the door for hydraulic-fracturing practices (fracking) in CSG operations.

A standard Land Access Agreement for exploration activity is also currently being drawn up by the CSG industry and state farm lobby.



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