There are two pieces of legislation which predominantly address regional planning in Queensland:
- The Planning Act 2016 (PA)
- The Regional Planning Interests Act 2014 (RPIA)
The Planning Act 2016 allows for regional plans to function as state planning instruments and specifies consultation timeframes on the creation or amendment of a regional plan. It also allows for regional planning committees to be established to provide advice on the development and implementation of regional plans.
The Regional Planning Interests Act 2014 (and associated regulation) is designed to ‘manage the impact of resource activities’ on areas of regional interest. It identifies four areas of regional interest:
- Priority Agricultural Areas
- Priority Living Areas
- Strategic Cropping Areas
- Strategic Environmental Areas
It requires resource activities proposing to operate in these mapped areas to apply for a Regional Interest Development Approval (RIDA). The Department of State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning is the decision-maker on the grant of such approvals. The Act provides a right of appeal against the grant of approvals to immediate neighbours.
What’s Wrong with the Regional Planning System
In 2014, when introducing the RPIA, the then LNP Government said that it would ‘address the power imbalance between farmers and resource proponents’ and prioritise ‘agricultural activity on what is a finite and critical resource for Queensland’. Unfortunately, the application of the Act has not delivered this outcome and the current system has failed to protect our most precious assets from being targeted for resource activities.
Numerous areas of regional interest have been targeted for resource activities, including:
- An open-cut coal mine has been proposed on Strategic Cropping Areas near Kingaroy
- Coal seam gas projects have been approved on Priority Agricultural Areas on the Darling Downs
- Rivers and floodplains in the Channel Country Strategic Environmental Area have being targeted for exploratory shale gas fracking
- Strategic Cropping Areas on the Darling Downs, which have been identified as the best 1.5% of farmland in Qld, have been given approval for open-cut coal mining
Legal experts have also identified a number of weaknesses with the RPIA which is leading to resource activities in key assets, including that:
- The purpose is to ‘manage’ impacts rather than ‘protect’ assets
- There are broad exemptions that allow mining and gas within regional interest areas
- There are ‘re-mapping’ provisions which allow key assets to be downgraded
- There is uncertainty and discretion in decision-making
- There is disconnection from other major approvals for resource activities
- There is inadequate accountability/independent oversight