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Australia – New Statutory Regional Plans In Queensland.

6 November, 2013

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

 

  • The Queensland government made the Central Queensland Regional Plan and the Darling Downs Regional Plan on 18 October 2013.
  • These regional plans may have a significant impact on the development of future resources projects, or the expansion of existing resources projects, in the Central Queensland and Darling Downs regions.

WHAT YOU NEED TO DO

 

  • Entities undertaking or intending to undertake resources activities in the Central Queensland and Darling Downs regions should cross-reference their existing or proposed activities with the Priority Agriculture Area maps in the Regional Plans to determine whether the Regional Plans will affect their activities.

Introduction


On 18 October 2013, the Queensland government made the Central Queensland Regional Plan and Darling Downs Regional Plan.


These regional plans, together with other legislative amendments flagged in the Regional Plans, may have a significant impact on resources projects in the Central Queensland and Darling Downs regions. The plans recognise that certain agricultural land uses in identified Priority Agricultural Areas are to be give priority over any other proposed land use, including mining and petroleum activities.


What Is A Region?


The Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (Qld) (SPA) provides for the designation of regions and for the making of regional plans for designated regions.


The Central Queensland region was designated under the SPA in 2012. It currently comprises the local government areas of Banana Shire Council, Central Highlands Regional Council, Gladstone Regional Council, Rockhampton Regional Council and the Woorabinda Aboriginal Shire Council.


When the Livingstone local government area is de-amalgamated from the Rockhampton Regional Council local government area from 1 January 2014, the Livingstone local government area will also be included in the Central Queensland region.


The Darling Downs region was also designated under the SPA in 2012. It comprises the local government areas of Balonne Shire Council, Goondiwindi Regional Council, Maranoa Regional Council, Southern Downs Regional Council, Toowoomba Regional Council and Western Downs Regional Council.


Function, Purpose And Status Of Regional Plans


A regional plan is one of a number of State planning instruments provided for in the SPA.
A regional plan is a statutory instrument made by the Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning (Deputy Premier) under the SPA. It provides an integrated planning policy for the designated region and, amongst other things:

 

  • identifies the desired regional outcomes for the region and the policies and actions for achieving those outcomes; and
  • identifies key regional environmental, economic and cultural resources to be preserved, maintained and developed and the way the resources are to be preserved, maintained and developed.

Local governments must reflect the content of regional plans when drafting local planning instruments such as planning schemes. To the extent that a regional plan is not reflected in the relevant local government’s planning scheme, assessment managers and referral agencies must have regard to regional plans when assessing and deciding development applications under the SPA.


Content Of The Central Queensland Regional Plan And Darling Downs Regional Plan (Regional Plans)


The Regional Plans identify that the primary industries in their respective regions are agriculture and resources. They recognise that each region’s most productive areas of cropping land align with areas of economically viable resources deposits, and that the resources and agriculture industries face competition for access to land and the infrastructure and services required for each industry.


Both Regional Plans address these land use conflicts by:

 

  • identifying Priority Agricultural Areas (PAAs);
  • defining Priority Agricultural Land Uses (PALUs);
  • recognising that PALUs are the primary land use in PAAs and are to be given priority over any other proposed land use, including resource activities (which includes mining activities under the Mineral Resources Act 1989 and activities authorised under a petroleum authority under the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004);
  • foreshadowing that co-existence criteria will be developed to enable compatible resource activities to co-exist with high value agricultural land uses within PAAs.

PAAs


In the Regional Plans, PAAs are identified for each region as strategic areas containing highly productive and high value intensive agricultural land uses. PAAs are identified in maps in the Regional Plans. An editor’s note in each of the Regional Plans also notes that PAAs may be amended, and new PAAs added, as part of the review and amendment of each Regional Plan.


The PAAs have been identified in the Regional Plans to give land use priority to:

 

  • proven highly productive agricultural areas;
  • agricultural land uses with significant infrastructure investment; or
  • agricultural land uses which have the potential to be significantly impacted by resource activities and have limited scope to modify their agricultural practices in response to these impacts.

Given the significance of the mapping identifying PAAs in the Regional Plans, entities undertaking or intending to undertake resources activities should crossreference their existing and proposed activities with the mapping in the Regional Plans to determine whether the Regional Plans will affect those activities.


PALUs


PALUs are defined in the Regional Plans as land uses which are included in specified classes under the Australian Land Use and Management Classification Version 7, May 2010 published by the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry ABARES. In short, the land uses which are identified as PALUs are:

 

  • cropping;
  • perennial horticulture;
  • seasonal horticulture;
  • production from irrigated agriculture and plantations; and
  • intensive horticulture.

Co-Existence Criteria For Resource Activities In PAAs


The Regional Plans do not set out the co-existence criteria for resource activities within PAAs. The Regional Plans state that PAA co-existence criteria are being prepared to ensure that the approval of any proposed resource development cannot materially impact or threaten the ongoing viability of the PALU.


However, some guidance may be taken from the draft versions of the Regional Plans which were released for public comment earlier this year each as to the PAA co-existence criteria. Each of the draft Regional Plans included an Appendix, which was expressly intended not to form part of the finalised Regional Plans. The Appendix in each of the draft Regional Plans sets out the PAA co-existence criteria for resource activities, being:


1. a resource activity does not result in the material loss of land used by the PALU;
2. a resource activity does not have a material impact on the continuation of a PALU;
3. a resource activity does not have a material impact on the overland flow of water; and

4. a resource activity does not have a material impact on an irrigation aquifer that is an integral part of the PALU.


It remains to be seen whether the final PAA co-existence criteria will differ from those set out in the Appendix to each of the draft Regional Plans.


Priority Living Areas (PLAs)


The Regional Plans also identify PLAs for towns which are likely to experience significant growth in the next 25 years. The PLAs are identified on maps in each Regional Plan.
It is intended that the PLAs for each regional identified in the Regional Plans will replace each region’s existing restricted areas (urban) gazetted under the Mineral Resources Act 1989.


The Regional Plans also state that legislation is proposed which will give local governments the ability to approve resource activities within a PLA where the local government deems it appropriate and in the community’s interest. Whether that legislation will set out criteria by which a local government is to determine whether resource activities are appropriate and in the community’s interest remains to be seen. The draft regional plans released for public consultation earlier this year indicated that the Queensland government intended to develop best practice assessment criteria for the consideration of compatible resource activities within a PLA.


Where To From Here?


It is clear from the Regional Plans, as well as the draft Regional Plans released for public consultation earlier this year, that further legislative amendment will follow. The legislative amendments will include:

 

  • the implementation of PAA Co-existence Criteria – the draft Regional Plans each included a statement to the effect that PAA Co-existence Criteria will be implemented through a range of measures, including through amendments to the Strategic Cropping Land Act 2011, to ensure a single streamlined process for resource proponents;
  • the requirement to achieve the PAA Co-existence will be applied through assessment and approval processes necessary for resource activities, such as through development assessments, environmental impact assessments, environmental authorities and conduct and compensation agreements;
  • the foreshadowed legislation which will give local governments the power to allow resource developments within PLAs.

 

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For further information, please contact:

 

Glenn Wilshier, Ashurst
glenn.wilshier@ashurst.com


Caroline Ammundsen, Partner, Ashurst
caroline.ammundsen@ashurst.com

 
Ashurst Environment Practice Profile in Australia

 

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