We believe a robust land use planning system is a must for NSW. The Government’s land use plans for the Upper Hunter and New England North West regions establish a new process for assessing the potential impacts of mining and gas extraction on agricultural land and industries identified has having strategic importance.
Even if mining expands, it will only ever use minimal land compared to agriculture and conservation. Mining currently uses just 0.1% of land across the State and less than 1% of land within the Upper Hunter and New England North West regions, where the majority of the State’s mines are located. On the other hand, around 1.5 million hectares of strategic agricultural land has been identified in the two regions – around 15% of land in the two regions. That’s on top of other agricultural land or areas identified as critical industry clusters used for making wine and horse breeding.
Mining is a legitimate and extremely productive use of land – often the best use of a particular area. Decisions about whether a mine should be approved need to be based on detailed evidence, potential impacts, alternative land uses, and the pros and cons of the proposal.
The land use plans contribute to the framework in which decisions are made by giving special attention to agricultural land identified as having strategic importance.
However, we believe that the definitions of strategic agricultural land are too broad and could lead to marginal agricultural land being reserved at the expense of responsibly designed mining projects. We also believe that the new ‘gateway’ process duplicates the existing assessment process and will cause unnecessary delays in the overall assessment of mining projects. The new requirements could have been better integrated into the existing assessment process.
The mining industry is already one of the most heavily regulated in NSW, with no less than 10 State and Federal Government bodies overseeing the industry’s operations. Mining proposals are already comprehensively assessed, including potential impacts on agricultural land and businesses.
Despite our concerns, we will work within the plans and evaluate their effectiveness as they are implemented.
These land use plans shouldn’t mean choosing between one industry or another. Responsibly developed and properly regulated, all industries should be able to co-exist and prosper in NSW. That’s why these plans must be considered with the facts in mind. To base future land use on unsubstantiated myths and not the facts will put the future prosperity of NSW at risk.