The New South Wales government has updated guidelines to state planning rules to protect some of the state’s major regional centres from “encroaching solar and wind development,” after receiving almost unanimous support for the changes.
The planning amendment, first flagged by the government in October, seeks to restrict renewable energy projects from building within 10km of a commercial centre, or within 5km of residential land, in Albury, Armidale, Bathurst, Dubbo, Griffith, Orange, Tamworth and Wagga Wagga.
The rules do not seek to immediately rule out projects that fell into the above-mentioned planning zones, but rather will require authorities to consider additional mandatory matters around key issues, such as visual impacts and agricultural land, before granting planning approval.
In an update issued by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, its executive director of state policies and strategic advice, Felicity Greenway, said the changes will come into effect in early 2022 after 96% of public submissions on the new policy either gave feedback or supported the changes.
The government says the new rules will ensure renewable energy projects are built in the right places, to allow room for regional cities to grow and develop, including by safeguarding “vital land” needed to make regional cities more liveable.
In practice, the changes to the State Environmental Planning Policy (Infrastructure) 2007 will require consent authorities to consider if a proposed development will conflict with existing or approved uses of the land, such as land zoned for residential use.
Consent authorities will also have to consider whether a project would significantly impact or conflict with land needed to support the growth of a regional city, or significantly impact the scenic quality and landscape of the regional city.
Greenway said that with 14 operational large-scale solar farms in NSW worth more than $30 million and a further 95 projects at various stages in the planning process, it is imperative to make sure they were done well.
“Renewable energy projects are a vital part of our state’s transition to net zero emissions, but with the increasing number of applications cropping up close to existing regional cities, we need to make sure they’re built in the right places,” she said.
“We want to safeguard the success of our regional cities by making sure they have room to grow while we support the state’s future energy needs.
“That’s why we’ve updated our planning policy that covers infrastructure projects to ensure that solar and wind projects can only be approved if they would not have significant impacts on the future use of land, views, and scenic quality of regional cities.”
For renewables developers – as the legal blog Lexology explained in October – the new rules don’t prohibit projects in the designated zones, but rather will “present additional hurdles for approval and could compromise existing projects in the development pipeline.”
Lexology said the proposed amendments sent the message that the NSW government’s ambitious Net Zero Plan would “not be sought at all costs, or at least not without consideration of the impact … on metropolitan and regional communities.”
The updated guideline is now on public exhibition for community and stakeholder feedback until February 25, 2022. To read the guideline and have your say, visit planningportal.nsw.gov.au/solar-guidelines.
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