STAKEHOLDERS in the state government’s controversial Strategic Regional Land Use Policy are not impressed.
The amended policy released yesterday has attracted strong reactions and immediate debate among northern region farmers, environmentalists, councillors, and mining advocates.
They’ve been involved in the argument since its inception – when the draft policy was released in March and subjected to a two-month consultation and submission process.
Planning Minister Brad Hazzard, who was verbally attacked by the plan’s opponents when he visited Gunnedah earlier in the year as part of the community engagement, said the new package provided comprehensive protection for valuable agricultural land and water resources, while allowing development of the state’s resources.
The policy includes an additional 27 measures on top of those outlined in the draft plan.
The government says the new measures were designed to provide greater protections for farmers and to better balance competing land uses.
Despite mapping out more than two million hectares of protected strategic agricultural land (SAL) for the Upper Hunter and New England regions in the amended policy, opponents say it still fails to quarantine that land from future mining practices.
Instead, a “gateway process” will independently and scientifically determine the impacts of mining and coal seam gas production proposals.
The NSW Farmers’ Association is one of the groups “bitterly disappointed” with the much anticipated plan and said the government had caved in to the powerful mining and energy lobby.
NSW Farmers’ president Fiona Simson said all they’ve got out of the incomplete package was watered down water protections and a virtual green light for exploration and mining.
Thousands of the association’s members and supporters marched to Sydney’s parliament house in May to contest the plan and Ms Simson said the government had ignored their wishes.
The NSW Minerals Council also rebuked the plan yesterday, saying it would impose significant additional requirements and conditions on the state’s embattled mining sector.
The council’s chief executive officer, Stephen Galilee, said the sector accepted the need for the plans but was concerned about the impact of bureaucratic duplication and delays in the already rigorous assessment process.
“This added layer of assessment has the potential to cause delays in project development, making it more difficult for NSW to attract investment,” Mr Galilee said.
The release of the plan came as the North West Alliance of environmental groups travelled to Sydney yesterday to meet with state parliamentarians and discuss the land use policy.
Alliance spokesman Phil Laird said all guarantees of land protection were gone, along with the pre-election commitments of the O’Farrell Government.