The NSW Government has unveiled its Strategic Regional Land Use Policy, outlining 27 new measures designed to control competing land uses, with a focus on the impacts of coal seam gas mining on land and water resources.


Minister for Planning Brad Hazzard said the package of initiatives provides comprehensive protection for valuable agricultural land and water resources, while allowing for the responsible development of the State’s resources.


“Since last year’s election, we have been working hard to strike the right balance to protect agricultural land, water and the environment, and believe this policy achieves that balance,” Mr Hazzard said.


The Strategic Regional Land Use Policy covers:

  • Identification of Strategic Agricultural Land so that proposed projects must go through the new Gateway process, an independent, scientific and upfront assessment of the impacts of mining and CSG production proposals;
  • A new Land and Water Commissioner to restore community confidence in the processes governing exploration activities in NSW and to oversee land access agreements between landholders and miners;
  • An Aquifer Interference Policy that uses science to assess and protect water resources across the State;
  • The requirement for an Agricultural Impact Statement as part of the assessment of exploration proposals;
  • New Codes of Practice for the coal seam gas (CSG) industry, covering well drilling standards and hydraulic fracturing;
  • Standard land access agreements to ensure fair outcomes for landowners;
  • Additional compliance resources (40 positions) to ensure the new standards are met; and
  • CSG producers to invest in local communities through Regional Community Funds.


Mr Hazzard said that changes to the Policy had been made following a consultation period during which over 2,000 submissions were received and over 1,100 people attended public forums and information sessions.


Key changes made following the release of the draft Strategic Regional Land Use Policy and consultation with farmers, the resources industry, councils, environmental groups and local communities also include:

  • The Aquifer Interference Policy now applies statewide and is no longer restricted to Strategic Agricultural Land.
  • The “exceptional circumstances” provision that would have allowed certain mining or CSG projects to bypass the Gateway has been scrapped.
  • The amount of Strategic Agricultural Land mapped for protection in the Upper Hunter and New England North West regions has increased by 670,000 hectares to over two million hectares.
  • The amount of Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land in the New England North West region has been increased by a significant 60 per cent. Some land with moderate soil fertility has been included, which captures the important cotton producing areas around Gunnedah, Moree and Narrabri.
  • In the Upper Hunter, the Viticulture Critical Industry Cluster has increased from 53,292 ha to 107,135 ha, and the Equine Critical Industry Cluster has increased from 183,452 ha to 233,286 ha. In response to submissions, the Viticulture Critical Industry Cluster now includes grape growing areas around Denman and the criteria for the Equine Critical Industry Cluster now includes land up to 18 degrees in slope.


“Recognising that mining operations require investment certainty, the Gateway process will focus on proposals which extend beyond the boundaries of an existing mining lease or where a new lease is required,” Mr Hazzard said.


“All mining proposals, whether subject to the Gateway or not, will still go through a full merit assessment process – including community consultation – when they lodge a development application.”


Over two million hectares of Strategic Agricultural Land has already been identified across the Upper Hunter and New England North West regions, with mapping of the Central West and Southern Highlands underway and other areas of the State, including the North Coast, also to be mapped.


Minister for Resources and Energy Chris Hartcher said, “We have spent the last 16 months introducing stringent new controls to regulate the industry and have considered feedback from the consultation process before any coal seam gas exploration licences are renewed.”


The NSW Government has announced it will commence the exploration licence renewals process by making offers of renewal to a number of CSG companies. These include Santos, AGL Energy and Metgasco.


NSW Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner said the creation of a new Land and Water Commissioner to oversee the regulation of exploration activity right across the State, the creation of Regional Community Funds and the removal of the royalty holiday for CSG producers would restore community confidence in the processes governing CSG exploration and production activities.


“The Commissioner will provide independent advice to the community regarding exploration activities and will facilitate greater consultation between Government, the community and industry,” Mr Stoner said.


“The Strategic Regional Land Use Policy empowers landholders and communities, particularly in relation to exploration activity, and requires the mining and coal seam gas industries across NSW to meet higher standards.


The NSW Farmers Association has accused the government of caving in to the mining and energy lobby.


The Association’s president, Ms Fiona Simson said: “What we and thousands of city and country people wanted more than anything else from this government was our land and water to be protected.”


“What did we get? We got an incomplete package with watered down water protections and a virtual green light for exploration and mining right across most of the state.”


Ms Simson said not only had the government broken an election promise - it had ignored the wishes of thousands of city and country people who marched to Parliament House on 1 May. It had also ignored more than 1,500 submissions asking the government to do a very reasonable thing – protect our land and water.


The Strategic Regional Land Use Policy, Upper Hunter & New England North West Plans and Maps, Aquifer Interference Policy, CSG Codes of Practice, fact sheets and frequently asked questions are available here.


The list of proposed offers of renewal is available here