Environmental Planning And Water Legislation Amendment Bill
|About this Item||Speakers||Yeadon Mr Kim
||Business||Bill, First Reading, Second Reading
ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING AND WATER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL
Suspension of standing orders, by leave, agreed to.
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr YEADON (Granville - Minister for Land and Water Conservation) [5.04]: I move:
I wish to inform the House of the contents of the Environmental Planning and Water Legislation Amendment Bill and the background to its introduction. This bill addresses inconsistencies in the current legislation regarding the holding of local land board inquiries and appeals from the decisions of those boards where a commission of inquiry may already be examining the proposal, or will be examining the proposal. The bill provides for the removal of duplication and the current, unparallel processes of the planning approval, where a commission of inquiry is in progress. Briefly, it is proposed that where a commission of inquiry has been directed to hold an inquiry into a proposed development by the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning and a licence under part 2 of the Water Act 1912 is required by the proponent, the commission of inquiry is to report to the Water Administration Corporation on the licensing aspects.
This bill will, in effect, allow for an effective one-stop-shop process, in line with the Government's commitment to reduce red tape. The land board process and appeal process will be modified in certain situations which I will refer to after explaining the current statutory provisions. Under the existing provisions, licences under part 2 of the Water Act are required where works such as dams are placed on rivers and watercourses, or water is to be taken from rivers and watercourses. The Water Administration Ministerial Corporation referred to in the bill administers the licensing system. By way of explanation, the ministerial corporation is constituted under the Water Act Administration Act 1987 and the Department of Land and Water Conservation is the administrative arm of the ministerial corporation. Land boards are constituted under the Crown Lands Act 1989 and in general terms hear matters referred to them under the Act and the Water Act. They are chaired by one person throughout the State and have two local members.
The procedures for appointment of the local members and for the conduct of the boards are set out in the Crown Lands Act. Commissions of inquiry on the other hand are appointed under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. They hold inquiries to examine the environmental impacts of a proposed development or activity, as defined in that Act. This leads me to explain the roles of commissions of inquiry and land boards. Commissions of inquiry already have the role of looking at water-related issues when carrying out inquiries. Water is an integral part of the environment and is included in the definition of that term in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. Where water-related issues are involved a commission of inquiry is required to look into them as part of its charter to look at the possible effects on the environment of the project under scrutiny. The role of land boards, where they are required to be called under the Water Act following lodgment of objections, is to examine the desirability of granting a licence application.
Any person whose interests may be affected by the granting of the application may object. Although in theory the land board had a broad charter, for practical reasons the land boards focus on water issues. When considering the broader issues of the effects of a proposed project the commissions of inquiry are assisted considerably by the preparation by the proponents of an environmental impact study, which is required in some cases. For instance, where the proposal falls within the category of designated development as specified in the regulations made under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act the preparation of an environmental impact study is compulsory. An environmental impact study is also required where a proposed activity falling within part 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act will significantly affect the environment.
Honourable members will be aware that the environmental impact study process has been in place for over 15 years and has proved to be successful. The regulations under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act set out what they should contain. The requirements cover the full gamut of potential environmental concerns. By having access to an environmental impact study a commission of inquiry is well placed to test the environmental impact study on a wide range of issues. If water-related issues are involved in the project the commission of inquiry is able to examine these issues in detail in their own right and also in the broader context of the other environmental elements in the project. Where broad environmental issues are involved it could therefore be said that a commission of inquiry is equally or even better placed than a land board to investigate the water issues. The adverse effects of having two forums considering overlapping issues are clear.
The proponents of a project are forced to go to both a commission of inquiry for consideration of environmental issues and as applicants for Water Act licences and objectors are forced to go to a land board as well. In all probability many of the members of the public who attend the commission of inquiry will also be Water Act objectors because they wish to ensure that both their broad
environmental concerns and their narrower Water Act concerns are addressed. They may not wish to risk attending one forum only and, to protect their interests, may be obliged to attend both. The result is that all parties are put to the time and expense of attending both inquiries. The time and expense of preparing for and attending both forums may be considerable. A commission of inquiry may sit over a period of several months; a land board may sit for a week.
A further adverse effect is the length or delay of the approval process. The Department of Land and Water Conservation is required to approve an application before it refers to the land board for inquiry. To ensure that there is a consistency of approach it waits in practice for the commission of inquiry to issue its findings before it considers whether to approve or refuse the application. If following consideration of the commission of inquiry's findings the Department of Land and Water Conservation approves the application and prior objections have been lodged, it is at this juncture that it requests the land board to set the matter down for hearing on the next available date. This may be several months away. If there is an appeal from the land board a further period of delay occurs. Turning to the antecedents of the Water Act's procedures, the rights of objection under the Water Act predate the introduction of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. It is clear that there is unnecessary duplication between the provisions of that Act and the Water Act.
The Water Act provides what might be described as the double jeopardy of requiring a project assessed by a commission of inquiry under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, to be assessed by a local land board on appeal by the Land and Environment Court. It is intended under the proposed amendments that a commission of inquiry will report to the Water Administration Ministerial Corporation on the licensing aspects and the corporation will take into account the commission's report in making its final decision. At the same time a COI will continue its current role of furnishing a report on its general findings and recommendations on environmental matters to the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning. The decision of the ministerial corporation will be final, continuing the current scheme of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act as regards the finality of the decision of the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning in respect of designated developments
The proposal also involves removing the rights of appeal of Water Act objectors to the Land and Environment Court. This decision has not been taken lightly. As I mentioned previously, the licensing provisions of the Water Act predate the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act where in some situations there is no right of appeal. It is also of interest to note that more recent provisions of the Water Act relating to joint water supply schemes where there are multiple applicants provide that a land board merely takes recommendations to the ministerial corporation, whose decision is not subject to appeal. The proposed amendment in this respect therefore introduces a consistency of approach with other existing statutory processes. Honourable members may wish to learn how the two major provisions link together. The proposed amendments to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act and the Water Act complement each other. They deal with two situations, one where the proponent has already applied for a Water Act licence, and the other where the proponent has not.
Where the Water Act licence has been applied for and objections have been lodged prior to the commencement of the COI, the ministerial corporation is required to forward the licence applications and objections to the COI for its assessment. The objectors may then make submissions to the COI when it advertises that submissions may be made. This procedure is set out in the amendment to the Water Act. From an administrative viewpoint the ministerial corporation will inform the objectors of the change in forum and advise them that they should approach the COI. In the second situation, where the Water Act licence has not been applied for, the COI must under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act amendments wait until this has occurred and the application has been advertised by the ministerial corporation. It can of course continue with its inquiry into non-water issues in the meantime.
The procedure will then be that the ministerial corporation will once again forward the licence applications and objections to the COI and the objectors may approach the COI. If the COI discovers during its proceedings that a licence is required, there is provision in the amendments to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act for it to notify the proponent accordingly. This sets in train the application and the advertising process. It is also proposed that, if there is a COI in progress when the amendments come into affect, the COI will, after giving appropriate notice that it will be dealing with water issues, receive submissions from any Water Act objectors or other interested people or associations who wish to speak further on the subject. This will put to rest any suggestion that some Water Act objectors who have not addressed the COI may have been reserving their resources for a land board hearing and will under the proposed changes lose their opportunity to express their concerns to a public forum. It is important that projects such as those proposed by Newcrest Mining Limited should receive full scrutiny. It is also important that they should not be subjected to unnecessary duplication of the processes and the resulting burden of red tape which the Government is committed to cutting. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Jeffery.
That this bill be now read a second time.