The Queensland Government has released the final versions of the Darling Downs Regional Plan and the Central Queensland Regional Plan (the Regional Plans) which both took effect on 18 October 2013.
Aspects of the Regional Plans are still to be finalised, including the release of co-existence criteria, and proposed legislative amendment to give effect to the outcomes and policies sought by the plans, so stakeholders (especially those in the resources sector) should be monitoring developments closely.
In parallel, a review of the Strategic Cropping Land framework has been carried out by the Queensland Government, with the release of the "Review of the Strategic Cropping Land Framework Report" this week. The Review has, amongst other things, flagged Government's intention to repeal the Strategic Cropping Land Act 2011 with the implementation of strategic cropping land policies intended to be through the Regional Plans.
What are regional plans?
The Regional Plans are part of the Queensland Government's policy to deliver a new generation of regional plans that aim to provide policies to deliver regional outcomes which align with the State's interests in planning and development.
A regional plan is a state planning instrument made under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009. Regional plans are required to be taken into account in the preparation of other lower order planning instruments where those instruments may affect a matter in the regional plan, such as a local government planning scheme.
The State's interests in land use planning under the State Planning Policy (still in draft form at the date of publication) are also reflected in regional plans.
The Regional Plans
The Regional Plans identify the regional outcomes sought by the State for the areas to which they apply, as well as the policies to achieve those outcomes.
While there are unique differences applicable to the individual regions, the key policies and stated priorities of both Regional Plans are the same – a strong focus on resolving land use competition between the agricultural and resource sectors and driving economic development.
Protecting Priority Agricultural Areas while supporting co-existence with resources sector
Both Regional Plans identify Priority Agricultural Areas (PAAs) in their respective regions. PAAs are areas identified as containing highly productive agricultural land uses. The Regional Plans aim to implement the policy of protection of these PAAs while supporting resources sector co-existence by:
- identifying Priority Agricultural Land Uses (PALUs) within PAAs, which are identified as the primary land use and given priority over any other proposed land use;
- mapping the PAAs;
- identifying PAA co-existence criteria to protect PALUs from the impacts of incompatible resource activities, while maximising the opportunities for the co-existence of resource and agricultural land uses (the co-existence criteria is still to be developed);
- requiring that local planning instruments incorporate planning and development provisions that reflect the policy of protecting PALUs within PAAs.
PAAs may change over time as part of an amendment or review of the Regional Plans.
Providing certainty for the future of towns
The Regional Plans also identify Priority Living Areas (PLAs) that are designed to provide opportunities for identified towns to expand through the establishment of town buffers. The aim of PLAs is to foster growth and liveability in the Central Queensland and Darling Downs regions, and to safeguard those areas required for the growth of towns in these regions.
PLAs are intended to replace existing restricted areas (urban), as gazetted under the Mineral Resources Act 1989 in 2011 ( Restricted Area 384). The Darling Downs Regional Plan notes that this is with the exception of the Toowoomba area in the South East Queensland (SEQ) region, and that the areas in the SEQ region will be reconsidered as part of the current review of the SEQ Regional Plan.
Both Regional Plans are supported by a series of PLA maps. The Regional Plans note that PLAs may be adjusted over time to accommodate changes in local planning and may be updated as local government planning schemes are amended.
The Regional Plans provide that councils will determine the appropriateness of any potential resource activity within PLAs. This will require legislative amendment, which is yet to be detailed. The Minister's foreword to the Regional Plans notes that this will form the basis of legislative changes to create a stand-alone Regional Planning and Development Act, to contain the most important regional interests and aspirations.
Protecting other state interests
The Regional Plans also identify other State interests of relevance to land use planning in their respective regions, including housing and liveable communities, economic growth, environment and heritage, and hazards and safety.
Priority outcomes for infrastructure have been separately identified in the Regional Plans to assist local governments appropriately address the State's infrastructure interests when preparing or amending their planning schemes. Prioritisation of transport programs to improve freight movement and reduce conflicts in urban areas and with other network users is a common priority outcome for both regions.
While the Regional Plans took effect from 18 October 2013, further work is required to complete their implementation, including:
- legislative amendments, including to give councils the power to determine the appropriateness of any potential resource activity within PLAs, through the proposed Regional Planning and Development Act;
- finalisation of the single State Planning Policy, expected later this year;
- finalisation of the co-existence criteria;
- amendments to local government planning schemes to reflect the Regional Plans.
The Cape York Regional Plan is expected to be released in draft for public consultation in November, with the Plan expected to be finalised in mid-2014.
Legislative amendments are proposed to be by way of a new Regional Planning and Development Act, which is intended to be introduced to Parliament later this year.
The outcomes of the Strategic Cropping Land framework are intended to be incorporated in the proposed Regional Planning and Development Act.
Those with developments within the Darling Downs or Central Queensland regions, particularly in the resources sector, should closely monitor these changes.