Dormant Rural Lands SEPP should be used to protect the Liverpool Plains

MEDIA RELEASE – 6 February 2015

The Greens NSW mining spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham today announced the Greens policy to use the existing Rural Lands State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) to permanently protect the Liverpool Plains and other key agricultural areas from mining and gas extraction, criticising both the current Coalition government and the former Labor government for not using the Rural Lands SEPP despite its existence in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.

“The Greens believe it is critical to protect the highly productive soils of the Liverpool Plains and other areas, and will push to have productive agricultural lands protected through the existing Rural Lands SEPP,” said Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham.

“It is damning that both the Nationals and the Labor have ignored the Rural Lands SEPP when it could protect key agricultural lands. Kevin Anderson should explain to the electorate exactly why it has been dormant?

“There has been so much hand-wringing and dithering on land use conflict when certainty could be provided by using the Rural Lands SEPP. It could be done in a week by a ministerial decision that is then published in the weekly Government Gazette.

“The government’s Strategic Regional Land Use policy is an obvious failure now the Shenhua Watermark mine has been approved. BHP’s Caroona mine continues to progress through the planning system.

“Both the Planning Assessment Commission and the NSW Chief Scientist have recommended the government act to rule out mining in certain areas. The Rural Lands SEPP is a mechanism already in place that would allow this protection to be granted tomorrow.

“Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land and Critical Industry Clusters have already been mapped. While the Greens believe more land should have been included in these areas, it provides a basis to start scheduling lands for protection under the Rural Land SEPP,” he said..

Contact: Max Phillips – 9230 2202 or 0419 444 916

NSW Greens policy intiative

Use the Rural Lands SEPP to declare the Liverpool Plains off-limits to mining & gas

The Rural Lands State Environmental Planning Policy 2008 (SEPP) has existed under the Environmental Planning and Protection Act 1979 Act, since 2008. Part 4 of the Rural Lands SEPP’s enables the government to identify and protect ‘State significant agricultural land’. The SEPP could be used to prohibit mining within a defined geographic area on grounds that the land is agriculturally valuable.

The Rural Land SEPP has been available but has not been used

Despite the existence of the Rural Lands SEPP since 2008, neither the former Labor government nor the current Coalition government have used it to protect agricultural land.

The Greens believe the NSW government should, as a matter of priority, use the Rural Lands SEPP and declare certain geographic areas of NSW off-limits to mining and coal seam gas. This would mean identifying and listing certain geographical areas in Schedule 2 of the SEPP.

This could be done quickly. It involves the Minister for Planning signing an order which would then be published in the weekly Government Gazette.

The Greens want the Rural Land SEPP used to protect the Liverpool Plains

The Greens believe the first area to be put in the schedule should be the Liverpool Plains. The highly productive black soils of the Liverpool Plains, combined with the excellent water resources and climate of the area, make it Australia’s best agricultural area. Protecting this area is not only sensible from an economic perspective, but also strategic in a world where food security is becoming more important. The Greens value the Liverpool Plains as a key agricultural area and believe it should be permanently protected from mining and gas extraction.

The Strategic Regional Land Use Policy has failed

Land use conflict between mining, gas extraction and agriculture has been a major issue in NSW over the last term of government. The Liverpool Plains has been at the centre of this conflict with two proposals for major coal mines (BHP’s Caroona project and Shenhua’s Watermark project) as well as active Petroleum Exploration Licences over the area.

The current government’s Strategic Regional Land Use Policy is widely acknowledged to have failed, and according to the Department of Planning, is to be replaced by ‘Regional Growth Plans’. The policy is flawed because the government failed to declare areas off-limits, and failed to put a gate in their gateway process, meaning that mining could still occur on even the best agricultural land. The approval of the Shenhua Watermark mine highlights the failure of this policy.

The Strategic Regional Land Use Plan did produce maps of Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land as well as identify Critical Industry Clusters. While the Greens believe more land should have been included in these areas, it provides a basis to start scheduling lands for protection under the Rural Land SEPP.

Protection for the Liverpool Plains has been recommended

The NSW Chief Scientist’s Review of Coal Seam Gas recommended that the government provide certainty by identifying areas where gas extraction can and can not occur.

Recommendation 5 says:

“That Government use its planning powers and capability to designate those areas of the State in which CSG activity is permitted to occur, drawing on appropriate external expertise as necessary.”

The Planning Assessment Commission into the Shenhua Watermark coal mine also recommended the Liverpool Plains be protected from mining, with its review report stating on page 8:

“The Commission acknowledges the significance and productivity of the black soil plains and agrees with the view that the plains should be preserved for agricultural production.”

And:

“The NSW government should undertake some more detailed work or refinements to identify and protect those highly valuable, fertile black soils where mining should be prohibited.”

It’s time to end land use conflict in the Liverpool Plains

Scheduling the Liverpool Plains would provide certainty for farmers and the community, and put an end to the land use conflict that has gone on for far too long. The legal framework is available under the Rural Lands SEPP and the Greens believe it is time it was used.

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