Negotiating the ‘minefield’
Wednesday, 22nd July, 2015
Small councils faced with having to negotiate tricky planning agreements with mining companies are set to get some help.
Voluntary Planning Agreements (VPA) are typically struck with mine operators when a new mine is being built and they can result in companies contributing millions of dollars to a council’s infrastructure costs.
But the negotiation process has been “a daunting, unstructured challenge”, according to the Association of Mining Related Councils (AMRC).
However, all that might change with the AMRC and NSW Department of Planning and Environment working together to deliver comprehensive guidelines.
The draft “Planning Agreement Guidelines for State Significant Mining Projects” will be issued soon for public comment.
Deputy Secretary of Policy and Strategy at the Department, Alison Frame, said the guidelines would make negotiations simpler.
“In particular, the guidelines will assist councils and industry in understanding the steps involved in negotiating a planning agreement,” Ms Frame said.
Ms Frame said they were also important to help mitigate public concerns about the impact of a mine.
BH City Council does not have a VPA but deputy general manager Sharon Hutch said yesterday it would “welcome the process” as they offered flexibility.
“As Broken Hill is a member of the Mining Related Councils it is supportive of moves to develop guidelines which support both parties when it comes to negotiating VPAs.”
Negotiating them had been overwhelmingly difficult for many small councils in the past, according to AMRC chairman Clr Peter Shinton.
He said the guidelines could mean councils might no longer have to “reinvent the wheel” when approaching the planning agreement process for the first time.
“With no structure existing, a VPA was difficult to negotiate and delivered uncertain outcomes. If you were lucky you got a good one. If you weren’t, you didn’t,” he said.
“In the Warrumbungle Shire, we worked towards a VPA with a mine that has now been mothballed. We certainly could have done better. I am confident that the new guidelines will facilitate the best possible outcomes from Planning Agreements into the future.
“These VPAs can be multi-million dollar deals and a council needs to factor in all they can in regards to the impacts the mining operations and the people the mine brings in will have.”
Cr Shinton said that, normally, once a VPA had been struck, it was for the life of the mine.
“You also need to plan for economic and social impacts of a mine closure. If workers have lived in the area for 20 or 25 years and they disappear suddenly, you’ve got a raft of challenges to deal with, like a big drop in real estate values, which also reduces a council’s revenue.”
Senior Planning NSW staff updated the association on their guidelines for planning agreements at its last meeting in Quirindi.
The next meeting, in Sydney next month, will be addressed by NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes.