In brief - Reforms may impact existing and future resource operations
The Queensland government has recently passed the Regional Planning Interests Act 2014 into parliament, which may impact existing and future resource operations by expanding the assessment and approval process.
Area of Regional Interest – The priority land use for a particular area designated by a regional plan or regulation as a priority agricultural area, priority living area, strategic cropping area or strategic environmental area.
Relevant Activity - An activity that is likely to have an impact on an Area of Regional Interest prescribed by regulation or an activity authorised by a resources authority under the Geothermal Energy Act 2010, Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2009, Mineral Resources Act 1989, Petroleum Act 1923 or Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004.
Regional Interest Authority – An authority to conduct either a resource activity or a regulated activity in an Area of Regional Interest.
Regional Interest Decision – A decision made by the Chief Executive in respect of an application to obtain a Regional Interest Authority.
Regional Interest Condition – A condition imposed as a result of a Regional Interest Decision.
Resource Authorities may need additional approval
The Regional Planning Interests Act 2014 (Qld) ("the Act") requires a person conducting a Relevant Activity in an Area of Regional Interest to obtain a Regional Interest Authority unless the activity is subject to a specific exemption. There are four areas of regional interest:
• priority agricultural areas
• priority living areas
• strategic cropping areas
• strategic environmental areas
There are a number of key changes to the Bill being enacted, namely:
Removal of the local government veto
The Bill previously required the Chief Executive to follow any decision made by the local government where the local government was acting as an assessing agency. This requirement has been removed, meaning the local government no longer has a direct power to refuse or veto a project within its jurisdiction.
Exemption for an activity with an existing approval
The Bill previously provided an exemption for a regulated activity being carried out in an Area of Regional Interest in accordance with a "resource activity work plan" except for an activity carried out in a resource priority agricultural area that contains a source of water required for the ongoing use for the proposed priority agricultural land.
This exemption has been expanded under the Act to include all resource activities that are carried out on the land under a resource authority or environmental authority provided that:
• there is no need for any further authority or approval relating to the location, nature or extent of the expected surface impacts of the activity
• the resource or environmental authority identifies the location, nature and extent of the expected surface impacts of the activity
This exemption seeks to provide further assurance to existing resource projects, however, the revisions fail to provide certainty regarding:
• what are further approvals
• to what extent surface impacts of an activity were disclosed in an original application
Additional transitional provisions
Additional transitional provisions have been included in relation to the Strategic Cropping Land Act 2011 (Qld). Projects previously exempt under this act will remain exempt and current validation applications will be assessed as if the application was for a Regional Interest Authority.
Stay of operation
The Bill previously required activities conducted under a Regional Interest Authority to be stayed pending the outcome of any appeal lodged in relation to the Regional Interest Authority. This requirement has now been removed.
Approval attaches to the land
A Regional Interest Authority attaches to the land despite any change in the land's ownership or occupation. This means that a Regional Interest Authority will be treated similar to a development approval under land use planning legislation (the Sustainable Planning Act 2009) and cannot be transferred like an environmental authority.
Government release of draft Regional Planning Interests Regulation
The state government has released the draft Regional Planning Interests Regulation, which includes the specific assessment criteria and referral agencies for an application for a Regional Interest Authority for each respective regional interest area.
Criteria for assessment
If a Regional Interest Authority is required an application must be made in the approved form, accompanied by a report assessing the impact of the proposed activity in the Area of Regional Interest with reference to the assessment criteria and acceptable outcome contained in the Regulations.
A copy of the application must be provided to the landowners of the land on which the activity is to be conducted. If the activity is within a priority living area, the applicant must also publicly advertise the application in a local paper and provide a notice to the landowners. The notice and public advertisement must be in the approved form and state the following:
• a submission can be made in relation to the application
• the closing date for the submission
• that making a submission does not give rise to a right to appeal
The Chief Executive may, prior to making a decision, refer the application to an Assessing Agency. These are summarised in the following table.
The assessing agency has a defined function under the Regulations in that it is to determine whether the proposed activity meets each outcome for each Area of Regional Interest.
The assessing agency may be satisfied that an activity meets the required outcome for the Area of Regional Interest if the application demonstrates that the activity proposed to be conducted is outlined in the prescribed solution contained in the Regulations.
The Chief Executive must decide the application after considering the recommendations of the assessing agency. The Chief Executive may approve all or part of the application with or without a Regional Interest Condition or refuse the application.
This is commentary published by Colin Biggers & Paisley for general information purposes only. This should not be relied on as specific advice. You should seek your own legal and other advice for any question, or for any specific situation or proposal, before making any final decision. The content also is subject to change. A person listed may not be admitted as a lawyer in all States and Territories. © Colin Biggers & Paisley, Australia 2021.