Planning policy for agricultural land of national importance

The NSW government has released a report prepared by NSW Agriculture Commissioner Daryl Quinlivan on Improving the outlook for agriculture and regional Australia in the New South Wales planning system October 31, 2021. The Commissioner made 13 separate recommendations to adjust the NSW planning system to improve the regulatory environment for the agricultural sector and reduce land use conflicts involving farms agricultural and neighboring areas. At the heart of the recommendations were:

  • The development in stages of a statutory planning policy for agricultural land of national importance (ALUP policy) recognize the importance of land for agriculture and clarify how the use of agricultural land should be regulated in the planning system; and
  • Creation of a map of agricultural land of national importance (SSAL) to support ALUP policy and inform planning authorities, landowners and developers of the location of the best agricultural land in the state.

The development of a statutory ALUP policy and mapping system for SSAL could have important ramifications for competing land users in rural areas, especially for existing and proposed developments in the energy and utility sector. resources, including a growing number of renewable energy projects. New South Wales Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said the government would respond to the recommendations in the coming months.

The problem of competing land uses

The review examined how the New South Wales planning system adapts to competing land uses and their impacts. For rural and peri-urban lands, conflicts arise because of the need to meet demands for housing, industrial development, essential local and regional infrastructure and services, as well as agricultural production and conservation. Such developments coexist in rural areas with land used for mining, quarrying, and energy production and transmission.

While on the one hand, the NSW government has supported the agricultural industry’s goal of increasing on-farm production to $ 30 billion by 2030 (from 2017 to 2018, the New South Wales’ agricultural production was around $ 13 billion), renewed interest from producers and investors in the agricultural sector. faces a growing urban population, a growing urban footprint to meet population demand and a growing interest in rural residential development and lifestyles. In his report, Commissioner Quinlivan said the message from local councils and industry received during the public consultation was clear: to manage agricultural land use conflicts, a specific policy response was needed.

ALUP policy

At present, there is no NSW government policy on the priority and preferred use of agricultural land. In consultations for the review, boards expressed frustration at the lack of guidance on how to prioritize and plan agriculture. As a first step to improve the way in which agriculture is taken into account in spatial planning, the Commissioner recommended the formulation of a specific policy on the use of agricultural land according to a number of principles (such as set out in Annex 3 of the report), in particular that:

  • The policy should apply to lands mapped as SSAL and guide planning authorities on how to plan agriculture in strategic planning when identified as a priority land use;
  • It should not prohibit all land use, but instead apply a higher level of consideration to non-agricultural land uses on SSAL; and
  • It should not modify the eligibility of developments authorized under an environmental planning instrument (such as mining under the mining PPSE) or replace the environmental impact assessment requirements in the EP&A law.

Policy development with statutory support was preferred by most stakeholders to voluntary policy or guidance documents. Along with the policy, the commissioner recommended that the government consider adopting other ‘considerations’ in the PPSE of primary production and rural development (PPRD SEPP) to guide advice on how to respond to developments on and around SSAL.

Proposed SSAL mapping

To support the ALUP policy, the Commissioner recommended the development of an SSAL map that would define and identify SSALs. As a starting point, the map will build on existing data sets, for example, mapping of strategic biophysical farmlands, mapping of irrigated land, and mapping of northern coast farmland, which will be completed over the course of the year. time by “identified protection areas”, defined as areas with demonstrated or potential capacity for specialized production systems, and other areas identified and zoned for specialized or higher value-added agricultural production. It was recommended that the government consult with relevant industries and councils on their development goals for agriculture and how the identified protection areas could be implemented across NSW.

Since the release of the Commissioner’s report and recommendations, the NSW Department of Primary Industries has released a draft SSAL map for display and comment, until December 24, 2021. Stakeholders have been invited to make submissions on the preliminary map and landowners were given the opportunity to provide evidence to the DPI as to whether the mapped land meets the definition of SSAL.

Implications for the energy and resources sector

While the Commissioner indicated that his review did not take into account many of the issues raised during the consultation regarding water, mining, biodiversity and forestry, noting the review processes underway in these areas (such as the review of indigenous private forestry and the review of the biodiversity offsets program), his report commented on the renewable energy sector as an emerging frontier of land use conflicts. Stakeholders expressed concerns about the development of renewable energy infrastructure and the associated transmission capacity on agricultural land. For example, submissions under review expressed concerns about landscape disruption, the impact of value on neighboring lands, fragmentation or sterilization of good agricultural land, and uncertainty about the obligations and outcomes of the contract. decommissioning.

The NSW government aims to focus on the development of renewable energy through its Electricity Strategy and Electricity infrastructure roadmap, which will provide renewable energy zones. However, the development of infrastructure for the production of renewable energy will inevitably involve the use of agricultural land, as the Commissioner said in his report:

“There is a pressing need for this energy supply and the required transmission infrastructure. … Energy infrastructure is a source of diversified income for landowners, regardless of the variable income streams associated with agriculture… There will be a transition phase as renewable developments respond to the opportunities in these locations, and landowners in these areas will be affected in different ways and react accordingly.

The commissioner said the NSW government should ensure that the impact on farmland is minimized when this is a realistic option, and that communities are reassured about the decommissioning arrangements and their other concerns when possible. He noted that the DPIE is currently initiating a public consultation process in connection with these objectives.

The timeline for finalizing the SSAL policy has not yet been confirmed. In the meantime, landowners and energy and resource companies should provide any feedback to the DPI on both the SSAL card and the above-mentioned goals regarding the coexistence of the projects. renewable energy and farmland.

Amalia H. Mercado