Wine industry asks for protection from CSG

THE Hunter wine industry’s last-ditch appeal to the state government to ‘‘ring-fence’’ the vineyards from coal seam gas mining is all but certain to fail, with a final regional land use policy set to go to cabinet.

In a letter to Planning Minister Brad Hazzard, the Hunter Valley Wine Industry Association renewed calls for a protection zone over Broke and Pokolbin vineyards to be included in a new strategic land use policy for the region.

It is understood the final versions of policies for the Upper Hunter and New England areas are to go to cabinet for endorsement in the next fortnight.

Under the policy, any coal or gas project proposed on or within two kilometres of deemed prime agricultural land or clusters of agricultural industry or viticulture would have to pass through a new gateway assessment process for consideration by independent experts.

The final Upper Hunter plan would include more ‘‘prime agricultural’’ areas after participants at a Singleton forum on the draft policy voiced concerns that Merriwa farming areas had been left out of the mapping. But it is not expected to depart significantly from the draft, which did not include exclusion zones because of the government’s reluctance to set a precedent that it fears would be used to argue for protection zones in other regions.

In the letter, association spokesman Stewart Ewen said the government had not explained how the community would have input to a gateway process, and mining companies were lobbying for existing leases to be exempt.

He warned that the government was softening its policy, which would not live up to election commitments if the vineyards were not protected.

He said the association was ‘‘bemused and confused’’ at the prospect of rejection, particularly as South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia had endorsed policies allowing iconic areas to be protected.

Mr Hazzard said the Hunter’s wine industry had been critical to developing the policy.

‘‘They have been front and centre at the stakeholders meetings and my expectation is that the policy will provide the protection necessary for this significant industry without necessarily whacking up a white picket fence,’’ he said.

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