The government’s Strategic Regional Land Use Policy (SRLUP) announced yesterday has met with a wave of criticism from farming and environmental groups.
The long-awaited policy was promised as a way of placing controls on coal seam-gas (CSG) development but opponents say it is just a way of fast-tracking development..
The government says that as a result of the new all ‘state-significant mining and coal-seam gas proposals that extend beyond an existing lease area on strategic agricultural land must go through an independent, scientific and upfront assessment of their agricultural land and water impacts before a development application can be lodged’.
The land protected under the agreement amounts to some two million hectares. But it is limited to mapped areas, which currently constitutes only the upper Hunter and New England northwest regions. The policy does not currently apply to the northern rivers or Metgasco’s and Arrow Energy’s existing leases here.
Groups as diverse as NSW Farmers, The Greens and the Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC) have moved to distance themselves from the policy.
NCC’s chief executive officer Pepe Clarke said the SRLUP is ‘full of broken promises and strips away essential protection for the state’s most sensitive natural area’.
‘Seven iconic areas of the state’s natural heritage are now at risk of permanent damage from land clearing and mining,’ Mr Clarke said. These include Pilliga Forest, Warkworth Sands Woodland, Leard State Forest, Putty Valley, the Woronora water catchment area in Sydney, the Great Dripping Gorge and the Gardens of Stone.
He added that the SRLUP ‘breaks a solemn promise to NSW communities to ban mining from drinking-water catchments’.
Gates stay locked
Lock the Gate Alliance president Drew Hutton described it as ‘an appalling policy [that] is nothing more than an invitation for high-impact, polluting activities to come on to almost any part of the state’.
He said, ‘the gateway process is based on the assumption that resource extraction should not be ruled out anywhere,’ and added that ‘irrigators will be especially angry that aquifer-interference measures have been downgraded from a regulation to a policy, leaving it as relatively toothless’.
‘Mr O’Farrell and Mr Hartcher can give out as many exploration licences as they like but neither coal nor coal-seam gas industries have a social licence to bring their activities into inappropriate areas and so landowners will continue to lock the gate and, where appropriate, block the gate to these unwelcome companies,’ Mr Hutton said.
In a letter to the editor today NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson described water protections as ‘little more than tokenistic’. She added, ‘we are also bitterly disappointed that despite mapping our “strategic agricultural land” in two regions of the state, the new protections do not rule them off limits to invasive exploration and mining activities’.
The Greens’ mining spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham said, ‘Barry O’Farrell has declared war on the farmers of NSW and completely ignored their concerns’.
‘Not one inch of NSW will be off limits to mining and gas development – instead a gateway will provide a pathway to mining,’ he said.
‘The moratorium on fracking has been lifted without the community being shown any evidence from the government’s so-called independent scientific studies of this technology,’ he added.
‘The Liberal and National parties have sided with the miners.’