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Risks and impacts on governments and the community when planning coal mining projects in urban growth areas

25 Nov

Wallarah 2 Coal Project Rev 2 March 2014Planning for population growth is one of the challenges Australia has to face to ensure a good socio-economic future. This means that mismanagement and errors due to bad planning will affect our prosperity both individually and as a nation.

Currently Australia is going through an increase in applications for mining operations. Some of the recent policy of State governments has been to embrace mining and exports to improve royalty revenues. In the face of climate change, Australian states are continuing to give approvals for mining operations to take advantage of carbon-based resources.

This paper will investigate how a population growth area and a coal mining application are in conflict on the Central Coast of New South Wales (NSW). It identifies a range of planning principals for urban growth areas and superimposes a real life proposal for a mining operation within the locality of the growth area on the Central Coast of New South Wales.

The paper looks at planning processes, the potential impacts related to the mine’s coal loader and indicates how the risk of these impacts can affect socio-economic factors during construction, operation and after the mining operation has ceased.

The paper attempts to describe through some planning theory how the incompatibilities of urban development and a mining operation plays out. It shows by using as its argument a real life mining proposal within close proximity to proposed urban development in the form of a new green fields city planned for the Central Coast, a plan that has been documented since the publication of the 1975 Central Coast strategic plan.

Within this paper is the case study based on the application for a long wall mining operation by Kores Australia (a company owned by Korean and Japanese investors). It investigates impacts related to a proposed coal loader planned to be located near the intersection of the M1 motorway and the Link Road to Doyalson. The case study gives some analysis to the proposed mine head’s proximity to other existing and proposed urban developments, and natural environments in the North Wyong area.

The paper suggests that the externalities associated with the coal loader and transport of the coal to the coal loader at the Port of Newcastle create risks. If these risks are realised through the construction and operation of the mine head works it could create socio-economic repercussions for the local council, the state government and individuals.

The paper attempts to be objective showing an understanding of the economics of mining operations and need to accommodate population growth, but in the final analysis, risks and evidence seems to be weighted towards an incompatibility between mining and urban developments in the same locality.

Follow the link below to see the entire paper:

Paper in PDF format

NSW Planning Reform – Submission-re Green Paper September 2012

22 Sep

by Kevin Armstrong

Firstly, I comment that the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act should always have ecologically sustainable development (ESD) as its overarching objective.

A genuine commitment to ESD requires legislative mechanisms that mandate consideration of environmental matters and set minimum environmental standards.

The new planning act must enshrine ESD including use of the precautionary principle and intergenerational equity.

These considerations appear to have been lost in the proposed reforms.

The new Planning system must prescribe mechanisms for managing climate change impacts and mitigation. Climate change adaptions and mitigation and coastal management practices must be considered at Statewide level during strategic planning processes.

Urban sustainability .. and best practice design appear to have faded from prominence in the proposed reforms. Energy use and environmental footprint are, to a large extent, determined by the type of residential housing we build; knowing what we do about global warming ands sustainability, it’s just plain dumb to continue building poorly oriented houses with black roofs, no eaves and air conditioning !

I believe that BASIX needs strengthening to include passive solar design. There should be a mandatory requirement to install photovoltaic generation when installing either air conditioning or a pool pump. Surely we are smart enough to make a connection between the use of these two devices and the availability of solar energy !

At the urban level, planning must more closely co-locate residential and service facilities (schools, shops, recreation, employment) to reduce transport demands and should mandate techniques such as WSUD (Water Sensitive Urban Design) including separation or drinking and non-potable water supply and capture and re-use or storm water run-off for irrigation.

The remainder of my submission will follow the order of presentation of the four fundamental reforms to the NSW planning system:

1. Community Participation – Involving the community early on key decisions that will shape our cities, towns and neighbourhoods

The reform proposals provide no mechanism for community engagement – especially when engagement is required at the strategic level removed from immediate impacts and outcomes.

Whilst they may have a keen interest in what is to be built ‘next door’, across the road or in the immediate vicinity of their homes … few in the broader community have any real understanding of planning legislation, theory or processes. There is a real lack of understanding the processes and timeframes of strategic planning.

Extensive community education and information will have to be provided to empower the community to participate in any meaningful way at the strategic level.

Most communities have engaged at various times with ‘strategic planning’ – on the Central Coast with numerous versions of the Central Coast Regional Strategy, REDES, Conservation Strategy, Transport Plan, Infrastructure Strategy etc – only to experience long delays, many revisions of ‘draft’ documents, then a change of government and a new round or proposals.

Whilst such processes may appear ‘normal’ to bureaucrats, the community will rapidly tire of extensive delays in finalising top-level / peak framework strategic documents. I instance the ‘North Wyong Shire Structure Plan’ which remains in ‘draft’ form – despite having been exhibited in 2010 and the long delays and internecine squabbling over establishment of the Warnervale Town Centre .. over some 15 years !

The NSW Government – via DoPI – will need to ensure conciseness, clarity and transparency of documentation to encourage effective community consultation. By way of example, most in the community were effectively precluded in participating in comment on the recent Part 3a application relating to Gosford Waterfront / The Landing … because of the dozens of ‘old’ / prior documents submitted as part of the application, the thousands of pages of reading required to properly understand the proposal .. and the extensive GIPA process required to obtain key information such as proposed building footprints, heights and likely shadow effects.

In return for its engagement, the community will expect DoPI to ensure that merit appeal rights are available for all significant proposals … including state significant development and infrastructure.

2. Strategic Focus –Preparing good policies up front to guide growth and development

I agree with a more strategic approach to planning, rather than the current system where decisions are made development by development or site by site. That is inherently inefficient, time consuming, costly and wasteful.

The proposed planning instrument regime: NSW Planning Policies, Regional Growth Plans, Subregional Plans, Local Land Use Plans will require that DoPI NSW finalise the upper level planning instruments.

In my local area, there have been totally unacceptable delays in finalising the (draft) North Wyong Shire Structure Plan, the (draft) Central Coast Conservation Strategy, the (draft) Central Coast Transport Plan and a regional Infrastructure Strategy. DoPI NSW has nevertheless forced both local Councils (Gosford / Wyong) to submit new LEPs.

Existing environment protections must be maintained in the new planning system (including those set out in existing State Environmental Planning Policies). NRM targets should be included in strategic and subregional plans and flow down to Local Land Use Plans.

The integrity of the system would be enhanced by annual reporting of performance / changes at all levels .. similar to the current “State of the Shire” / State of the Environment reports.

3. Streamlined approval: a faster and more transparent development approval process, aiming to maximize code complying development

Most would agree that efficient processes are desirable, provided there are safeguards to address environmental concerns and protect citizens’ rights.

Greenfields sites

I applaud the strategic level planning undertaken by the Growth Centres Commission in developing greenfields sites in North West and South West Sydney. GCC planning at precinct level) integrated residential, services and employment lands and ensured co-ordination between various government service providers. Planning such development is much simpler because of the unconstrained nature of greenfields sites.

Brownfield sites / development within existing established areas
Planning extensive new development in existing areas is, in my view, considerably more complex by reason of limitations of existing land use characteristics and existing infrastructure.

DoPI will need to develop strong processes to properly explain zoning proposals which significantly change the character of existing areas .. be they residential, commercial or industrial.

I instance the Gosford Waterfront / The Landing proposal where a proposal for a Regional Performing Arts Centre was not opposed by locals; however, they strongly opposed its proposed location adjacent to the Central Coast Highway with inadequate access and parking. Proposed 4-6 storey wharf-like structures projecting into Brisbane Waters were also strongly opposed; these would forever destroy waterfront views and recreational use and threatened the character of existing low-key development along the waterfront.

I express real concerns regarding ‘flexibility’ and the ability of developers to submit non-conforming plans. Such an approach is totally inconsistent with strategic land use planning and zonings.

Any community supporting a strategic approach to land use planning must be provided with full consultation and objection rights where any proposal does not conform to the agreed land use zoning.

Again, merit appeal rights should be available for all significant development and infrastructure proposals – whether proposed by developers or the State.

4. Provision of infrastructure: ensuring that infrastructure supports growth by integrating planning for infrastructure with the strategic planning of land use .

It seems axiomatic that additional infrastructure be provided as part of the development of new communities; however, there are huge backlogs and endless arguments over who should pay for new infrastructure.

Three local examples will illustrate ‘worst practice’ –

1.  an extensive new community was developed at Kariong – but waited some 15 years for a ‘high school’; an underpass was belatedly provided only after a high school was built (on the opposite side of the Central Coast Highway to existing residences a multi-purpose (adaptable) school should have been provided on a timely basis as the residential area was developed.

2.  only in the last 5-6 years has there been any real attempt to upgrade strategic regional roads (Central Coast Highway, Avoca Drive, Tuggerah Straight, Warnervale Rd) – despite massive increases in the local population over 15 years previously.

3.  thousands of people moved into ‘Warnervale’ and surrounding suburbs up to 12 years ago – they still have no adequate railway station, regional shopping centre / service facilities or adequate road access

The NSW Government must integrate infrastructure planning with land use planning .. and ensure adequate funds are available (‘government’ provided or sourced from developer levies) to provide a range of infrastructure services on a timely basis.

Equally .. and missing from the current draft proposals, sustainable development requires that land use planning be integrated with natural resource management – to ensure local environmental issues are managed and wildlife corridors are provided as an integral part of effective land use planning.

5. A ‘delivery culture’ – Promoting a ‘can do’ culture in planning with government and local councils accountable for delivering results

Clearly the government sees itself as under pressure to respond to demands for increased / affordable housing. Whilst understandable, this approach is itself reactive .. rather than strategic.

A strategic approach to planning … must first address the key issues of desirable /

sustainable population including the key issues of food and water availability, transport and energy use.

There is a huge difference between ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’ – the former essentially being about productivity, timeliness and minimal cost .. the latter being about longer term values-based ‘worthwhileness’.

Our community will gain little if we make more ‘efficient’ our rush to develop everything before our eyes .. without considering longer term sustainability with a balanced approach to the interests of the community (social), our economy (financial), environmental concerns and governance processes (the quadruple bottom line).

Conclusion

NSW needs a holistic approach to resources use, community development, economic development and environmental management across the whole of NSW …

The current proposals for strategic land use planning might well be incorporated into such a broader framework. At a minimum, a foreword should explain this broader context.

Strategic land use planning .. even at the regional level .. will be totally ineffective if exploration / production of coal seam gas destroys aquifers and rivers (water supply), coal-fired electricity generation expands exponentially because of inefficient and inappropriate housing and profligate energy use (increased greenhouse gas / pollution), the community has to truck its food over hundreds of kilometres because prime agricultural lands close to the cities are covered with houses (ineffective energy use) and we continue planning in a fragmented way which requires each household to own several private cars and mandates multiple car trips – rather than public transport.

Email: Kevin Armstrong

This paper is subject to copyright; the written consent of the copyright owner must be obtained before any part of it is reproduced, adapted or communicated.   © Kevin Armstrong Copyright 2012
 

Wyong Transport Precinct, a proposal for Renewal

11 Feb

Submission to the Transport Roads and Maritime Services on the Proposed 4 lane Pacific Highway Roadway through the Township of Wyong.

Written by David Holland

BAS Env. Planning, Grad. Dip Env. Management

Written for the Wyong Planning Committee of the Community Environment Network’s (CEN)

The Wyong Planning Committee has grave concerns about this currently proposed design for a four lane highway the RMS proposes to build through the township of Wyong.

Wyong has been the hub of activity for the region up until recent times. However, as the population has started to explode, the town’s economy has started to come under threat from adjacent commercial centers. Wyong Council, through its planning department, has attempted to head off this trend by providing a framework for business and commercial development within the town.

As part of this, recently Wyong Council released a rezoning plan and amendments to the Wyong Township’s Development Control Plan No. 7 with the intention of encouraging a revitalization of the town. Council had recognized that over recent years the town has found itself relatively unattractive for private development. This is why council has moved to modify some building controls within the township precinct.

Although the town is moving slowly forward through public development most prominently the proposed Cultural Centre, the likelihood of significant private investment in the Baker Street Master Plan, The River Foreshore Master Plan and the revitalization of the Heritage Town Buildings by business interests throughout DCP 7 is unlikely unless significant public investment is made in the Transport Precinct of the town. This transport precinct is the most frequented part of the town. Many people travel through this precinct to other places, but few linger in the town.

We believe that unless large public infrastructure is invested within the township’s transport precinct, all the above efforts will not be enough to turn the town around and enable it to compete in a marketplace of private development dollars amongst places like Tuggerah precinct and the new Warnervale township, both of which have similar business attracting assets as Wyong. This includes a railway station and a bus interchange.

In addition, the North Wyong Structure Plan proposes another competitor of the private development dollar to the north of Wyong, the Wadalba East Town Centre.

We believe this investment away from the township will intensify due to the attractiveness of the Tuggerah Precinct, and the proposed New Warnervale Precinct where a large amount of the State government’s funding is poised to be poured into the precinct to initiate development inertia.

Now the new town of Warnervale has started to be built, less people from the area around Lakehaven will come to Wyong preferring to go to the new Warnervale Station to travel by train. Also as the old Warnervale station is revitalized, more people from the areas north of Wyong will use this station.

Council has proposed three master plans for the town precincts under its planning controls.  The Cultural areas of DCP 7 which is part of the existing town’s older buildings around the proposed Cultural Centre, Baker Street Master Plan and the Foreshore Master Plan. None of these will be attractive to developers unless the transport precinct is properly planned and developed.

To help encourage private investment on the east of the Wyong Station, the town will need to establish a good pedestrian link across the railway station. With this connection, the Baker Street Master Plan will become more attractive to any likely investor in the Baker Street plan.

Currently the town has the luxury of having a vibrant transport interchange. Much of this activity generates a sense of business in the town, cars passing through and buses, trains and taxis ferrying people in and out of the town. But how much of this activity is settling in the town? It seems that people only use the town as a place to move through.

The town needs to develop a heart, a heart where the people passing through feel enticed to stay. There is the negative prospect of people being drawn away from Wyong, given:

(a)   a new interchange at Warnervale Township, where buses and people from Lakehaven, Blue Haven and other localities in the north of Wyong will come more frequently, and

(b)  the magnetic influence of Tuggerah Westfield, intensified by the additional expected developments to the west of the current complex called the Gateway development, Wyong will become literally a dead Centre.

Many people who are asked how they feel about Wyong Township say that it is not a nice place to stay and they tend to do what they need to do in the town and leave.

With the advent of a four lane Pacific Highway about to be pushed through the town by the RTA, traffic flow may be better, but people will still not feel comfortable to stay in the town.

Both business and high-density developments will require good public and private transport links. These links must be planned within the State Government owned transport precinct.  The town must develop a heart. This too must be developed in the current transport precinct.

The position of the precinct is important. The current transport precinct is between the old town and the planned new developments in the Baker Street area.  A properly planned heart within the transport precinct would connect the two halves of the town.

The heart of the town must provide within the transport precinct the following:

(a) A passageway for the Pacific Highway;

(b) The immovable railway line;

(c) A bus interchange;

(c) Taxi ranks;

(d) Commuter car parking for rail users;

(e) Car parking for shoppers, and

(f) A commercial area consisting of small shops to encourage that sense of place so necessary for a heart of a town.

The planning of additional community space is also important. All this must be accommodated within this precinct to ensure the survival of the town as a viable and vibrant business center for the region.

How can all these service be supplied in such a seemingly small area of land? That would be the challenge of a consultative architect and a properly thought out plan.

We suggest a re-evaluation of the RTA proposed design of a 4 lane highway through the township and we would implore the RTA to involve Infrastructure NSW to find funds and partnerships with other state agencies and instrumentalities, to prevent further severing the town and provide a plausible plan for the future revitalization of the town.

We believe that the catalyst and real potential for development a publicly/privately funded infrastructure complex containing the transport precinct of Wyong Township.

This above approach would have advantages for solving the traffic problem of Wyong township; allowing for a freight line to the North Coast; and increasing the capacity of the capacity of the current rail line.

This approach would also solve the east west pedestrian connection. The existing pedestrian problems may be exacerbated by the current RTA plans within the Wyong Township, where the town will be cut off from the bus interchange and any developments to the east of the town by this new RTA Pacific Highway proposal.

We believe that the Regional Development Australia Central Coast (RDACC) should be involved in the co-ordination of the process to gain federal funding through Infrastructure Australia.

Infrastructure Australia was set up by the Australian Government to help solve traffic bottlenecks. Properly designed infrastructure like an interchange at Wyong would solve the bottlenecks related to both future development of the town and transport issues related to vehicular traffic and passenger and freight rail transport through the town.

We would also be proposing that the Central Coast Regional Development Corporation (CCRDC) be involved in the initiative as they may be able to encourage private business investment in the project, thus making the infrastructure plan more attractive to Infrastructure Australia.

We also ask that the RMS present the project to Infrastructure NSW.

We believe Infrastructure NSW should be able to make a case for the project and present it to the State government as an important infrastructure project. We believe that Infrastructure NSW will be able to help facilitate state agencies, such as RTA, State Rail, and Transport NSW to co-operate to create a plan for the transport precinct. In addition Infrastructure NSW can help put a case to the Federal infrastructure funding body, Infrastructure Australia, to contribute funds to this new transport precinct incorporating the passage of the Pacific Highway through the town of Wyong.

It is envisaged that funding will be sought from several sources including;

  • the State from existing capital works budgets;
  • the Federal government through Infrastructure Australia; and
  • private investment.

We would like to be a little careful in being specific in the formulation of any design for a new Wyong township transport precinct because any specifics of a design can be heavily criticized as impractical by the RTA engineers who have looked at a great deal of options for the site.

We believe that given the appropriate funding, a clever design team could conceptualize a solution to the problem needed to save the economic future of the town of Wyong, and provide a practical solution for a vibrant transport precinct around the current station’s location.

There may be an opportunity for a multi level design that allows the Pacific Highway to be lowered through the town to the same level as the road bridge as it traverses the Wyong River. Potentially a similar design opportunity may allow sufficient height to build over the roadway a plaza and a bus interchange at a similar height to the current rail overpass bridge to Howath Street, still allowing the current main street to interact with the plaza level.

When incorporating provision for a new freight line into the station complex perhaps on the east side of the railway, a multi level commuter car park could be built taking advantage of the difference in level between the current rail line, the level of the overpass to Howath Street and the level of Howath Street.

It would be envisaged that the current level of the Pacific Highway would remain as access to the town in front of the shops, and be used as access to the proposed Baker Street developments and to the bus interchange.

It would be expected that the Plaza would incorporate a range of new commercial premises. This would give commuters and town workers extra opportunities to shop, providing the potential for a vibrant center to the town and a convenient linkage to the Baker Street proposals and the Foreshores master plan proposals.

These linkages are important to encourage business, residential and commercial development on the eastern side of the township.

The planning as it proceeds needs to involve a range of other players as outlined above to solve a number of transport and urban design challenges facing Wyong Township.