More Upper Hunter land deemed 'strategic agricultural'

BREAKING NEWS: The final version of the state government’s regional land use policy has deemed another 11,000 hectares of land in the Upper Hunter as ‘‘strategic agricultural land’’.

The final policy, seen by the Herald and to be released shortly at a press conference this afternoon, removes a clause allowing cabinet to override an independent ‘‘gateway’’ assessment process of coal mining and gas projects in ‘‘exceptional circumstances’’.

The draft policy proposed that any major coal or coal seam gas project proposed on strategic agricultural lands or within two kilometres would have to pass through a new "gateway" process, conducted by experts who would look at environmental impacts, before proceeding to a development assessment phase.

The final policy says the process would apply to new projects as well as the expansion of an existing mine or coal seam gas project beyond a lease area, but not to expansions within leases.

It provides for the issuing of either an unconditional or conditional ‘‘gateway’’ certificate for projects before they proceed to a development application stage.

‘‘Proposals issued with a conditional Gateway Certificate will be able to proceed to the DA stage for a full merit assessment but, importantly, will be required to fully address the matters stipulated in the conditions of the Gateway Certificate,’’ the policy says.

The policy also says an industry levy would be introduced to ‘‘fund enhanced regulatory and communication capabilities within [the Division of Resources and Energy]’’.

An associated Aquifer Interference Policy would require any exploration activities taking more than three megalitres a year to hold a water access licence.

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