Contaminated Land Management

24th August 2016

Mr GREG PIPER ( Lake Macquarie ) ( 15:27 :51 ): My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Planning. Would the Minister advise whether the review of the planning system, with particular reference to State environmental planning policy [SEPP] 55 and the Codes SEPP, will provide for simplification and clarity in managing contaminated lands in New South Wales, and in northern Lake Macquarie in particular?

Mr ROB STOKES ( PittwaterMinister for Planning) (15:28:23): I thank the member for Lake Macquarie for his question. I note his persistent, passionate advocacy for his community as it deals with the legacy of more than a century of site contamination in the northern Lake Macquarie towns of Boolaroo, Argenton and Speers Point, around the former Cockle Creek smelter operated by Pasminco. I also note that the member's concern for his constituents led him to investigate at his own expense the measures being taken to manage contamination at Bunker Hill, Idaho, in the United States, which has a similar history.

Obviously, as with all historical legacy issues of contamination, when we are dealing with sites that under current planning and environment laws would never have been able to operate in areas of close proximity to people, we have a challenge in managing those sites in the future. While the site at Boolaroo has been remediated there are concerns in the surrounding community. Professor Mark Taylor from Macquarie University, a friend of mine, has recently been doing research that has shown there are elevated lead levels in certain residential properties in the vicinity of the former smelter.

While blood tests have shown that lead levels in vulnerable groups are below national guidelines, there are ongoing concerns that with rising property values in the area and the impetus to renovate and redevelop properties threatens disturbing the legacy of contamination over decades. The simple answer to the question asked by the member for Lake Macquarie is that we are looking at ways in which we can simplify and better integrate planning controls around contaminated lands.

As part of the separate review process that I announced last year we have already gone through the current State environmental planning policies created under section 37 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. We have taken out about 16 State environmental planning policies [SEPPs], approximately one-third of the total. Of the two remaining SEPPs, SEPP 33 deals with hazardous and offensive industries and SEPP 55 deals with contaminated lands. Obviously there is an opportunity to better integrate those two SEPPs and make them work together rather than separately and have an integrated way to deal with this wicked problem—the historical legacy of contamination.

The Government will develop a statewide planning approach for the identification of hazardous and potentially hazardous developments in the past and in the future. We want to ensure that the assessment framework for those developments is appropriate and effective in reducing the risk of harm to human health or any other aspect of the environment such as biodiversity, water, air and so forth. This will involve specifying when development consent is required for remediation work and what considerations are important in assessing development applications for remediation work.

Obviously the response needs to be proportionate. Where there is greater risk there needs to be greater caution, and for a lesser risk there needs to be less caution. Importantly, the existing and future policy framework will not allow complying development to be carried out on contaminated land within the definition of the legislation, the Contaminated Land Management Act, under the commercial, industrial, new buildings and alterations code. Councils can also exclude land based on local circumstances, such as on environmentally sensitive land, for example, biodiversity areas, wetlands, coastal hazard areas and foreshore areas, to name a few.

We will also ensure that remediation work is carried out in accordance with appropriate standards and guidelines. We will ensure that requirements to notify potentially affected parties are appropriate, transparent and meet community expectations. We will ensure we are mandating appropriate measures to be employed to reduce or minimise the impact of hazardous developments. I am working with my colleague—the new and improved Minister for the Environment—to ensure that the concerns of locals are also addressed.

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