On 20 March 2014, Queensland Parliament passed the Regional Planning Interest Bill 2013. The new Regional Planning Interests Bill (the RPI Bill), that is likely to commence operation in early February 2015, will for the first time subject resource activities to assessment under the State's regional plans.
Overview of the RPI Bill
The RPI Bill seeks to manage the impacts of resource activities and regulated activities in the following areas of regional interest that are to be declared under the State Governments 'new generation' regional plans:
- Priority Agricultural Areas (PAAs);
- Priority Living Areas (PLAs);
- Strategic Environmental Areas (SEAs); and
- The Strategic Cropping Area (SCA).
Areas of regional interest
The 'new generation' regional plans aim to prioritise a number of key State interests and to map the State government's land use priorities at a regional scale. Accordingly, the new regional plans identify PAAs, PLAs and SEAs. In addition to the mapping under the regional plan, these areas of regional interest may also be declared under a regulation.
Strategic Cropping Land
The RPI Bill also integrates the policy objectives of the Strategic Cropping Land Act 2011 (SCL Act) by identifying the SCA as an area of regional interest. The commencement of the RPI Bill will repeal the SCL Act. An SCA is an area shown on the State governments SCL trigger map as Strategic Cropping Land or Potential Strategic Cropping Land.
Status of the new regional plans
Currently there are nine existing regional plans 1 and two 'new generation' regional plans 2 in operation in Queensland. In addition, the Draft Cape York Regional Plan has been released for public comment, and the South East Queensland Regional Plan is currently under review. It is anticipated that the new SEQ Regional Plan will be adopted later this year.
Regional interests development approval
Once the RPI Bill and various new regional plans are operational, resource activities and other regulated activities that are proposed in areas of regional interest will require a 'regional interests development approval' 3.
A regional interests development approval is a stand alone decision that is required to be obtained prior to commencing the activity. The RPI Bill provides for a regional interests development approval to be applied for and/or secured before or after the issuing of a resource authority, environmental authority or development approval. However, given the type and level of information that is likely to be required for the assessment of an application for a regional interest development approval, practically it is likely that a regional interests development approval will need to be applied for post the issuing of other key approvals.
The assessment process for a regional interests development approval to a large extent mirrors the Integrated Development Assessment System (IDAS) process that applies to a development application under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (SPA). Therefore, an application for a regional interests development approval may require referral by the chief executive to other entities and may also require public notification 4. A regional interests decision may be appealed to the Planning and Environment Court in certain limited circumstances 5.
Impact on resource activities
Resource activities are currently exempt from assessment under SPA 6. Accordingly, authorised resource activities do not require a development approval under SPA and are not assessed against statutory regional plans. As stated above, once the RPI Bill and the new regional plans are operational, resource activities that are proposed in areas of regional interest will require a regional interests development approval unless an exemption under the RPI Bill applies.
Under the RPI Bill resource activities that will not require a regional interests development approval include:
- Agreement of land owner: Where the resource activity is carried out in a PAA or SCA and the authority holder is not the owner of the land and an agreement including a conduct and compensation agreement (under resource legislation) has been voluntarily entered into with the land owner and the activity is not likely to have a significant impact on the PAA and the activity is not likely to have an impact on land owned by a person other than the land owner.
- Activity carried out less than one year: Where the resource activity is carried out in a PAA and/or SCA and the activity is to be carried out and the area is to be restored to its prior condition within a 12 month period.
- Pre-existing resource activity: Where the resource activity is being carried out in accordance with a resource activity work plan (including a work program for an authority to prospect and a plan of operations for a mining activity) and the land was not in an area of regional interest when the resource activity work plan took effect. The intent of this exemption is to exclude existing resource activities that are operational from the requirement to obtain a regional interests development approval.
- Small scale mining activities: Where the activity is a small scale mining activity within the meaning of the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (EP Act).
Impact on other regulated activities
A 'regulated activity' is an activity that has an impact on an area of regional interest and will be prescribed under regulations to the RPI Bill. It is intended that the 'regulated activities' will be specific to an area of regional interest. Therefore, a regulated activity for a PAA may not be the same as a regulated activity for a SEA.
Where regulated activities are authorised to lawfully operate under SPA prior to the designation of an area of regional interest, the activity is exempt from the requirement to obtain a regional interests development approval.
What happens next?
A draft Regional Planning Interests Regulation 2014 (draft regulation) was released by The Honourable Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning Jeff Seeney on 20 March 2014 for further consultation.
Amongst other things the draft regulation details the assessment criteria for applications, relevant assessing and referral agencies and whether applications require public notification.
The draft regulation also prescribes broadacre cropping as a regulated activity for an SEA. It is understood that further regulated activities will be prescribed by regulation before the RPI Bill commences.
The State government has indicated that consultation on the draft regulation is likely to be undertaken for a period of 30 days. Industries should use this short consultation period to assess the impact of the new RPI Bill on existing and proposed activities, and where appropriate make submissions to the State government prior to it commencing.
1 Central West Regional Plan 2009; Far North
Queensland Regional Plan 2009; Gulf Regional Development Plan 2000;
Mackay, Isaac and Whitsunday Regional Plan 2012; Maranoa-Balonne
Regional Plan 2009; North West Regional Plan 2010; South East
Queensland Regional Plan 2009; South West Regional Plan 2009; and
Wide Bay Burnett Regional Plan 2011.
2 Central Queensland Regional Plan and Darling Downs Regional Plan.
3 The approved required under the RPI Bill was amended from a "regional interests authority" during its Consideration in Detail by the Honourable Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning on 20 March 2014.
4 A requirement for referral and/or public notification will be stipulated by regulation.
5 An applicant, the owner of the land to which a regional interests decision applies, and an affected land owner may apply to the Planning and Environment Court about a regional interests decision. An 'affected land owner' is a person who owns land that may be adversely affected by the resource activity or regulated activity because of the proximity of the affected land to the land the subject of the decision, and the impact the activity may have on an area of regional interest.
6 Resource activities authorised under the following resource legislation is exempt development under SPA: Mineral Resources Act 1989, Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004, Petroleum Act 1923, Geothermal Energy Act 2010 and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 20
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.