The NSW Government proposes to introduce industry-specific environmental assessment requirements, new assessment guidelines and an environmental impact statement (EIS) certification regime for State significant projects. Public submissions on the proposed reforms will close on 12 February 2021.
- NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) is exhibiting a package of reforms that seek to improve the assessment process for Statement significant development (SSD) and State significant infrastructure (SSI) projects.
- The package includes developing industry-specific Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements (SEARs) for SSD projects, introducing assessment guidelines for SSD and SSI projects, and establishing a scheme requiring registered practitioners to certify an EIS for SSD and SSI projects.
- Submissions can be made online or by post until 12 February 2021.
DPIE is moving towards setting SEARs on an industry rather than a project level for SSD projects that are wholly permissible, not designated development, and not a concept development application. This reform seeks to allow DPIE and agencies to focus more on projects that have greater environmental risks or seek to depart from existing land use controls.
DPIE has released draft industry-specific SEARs for hospitals, medical centres and health research facilities, warehouses and distribution centres, and development within identified sites and precincts. These industry-specific SEARs will be finalised having regard to the submissions received through the public exhibition.
Going forward, DPIE will also prepare industry-specific SEARs for other categories of development. DPIE states that this move away from a ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ will allow for a better allocation of resources and a streamlined major project assessment.
SSD and SSI assessment guidelines
DPIE is exhibiting proposed amendments to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000 (NSW) (EP&A Regulation) aimed at keeping an EIS succinct, easily understood, technically robust and reflective of community views.
In particular, the proposed amendments require an EIS and modification applications for SSD and SSI projects to be prepared having regard to the proposed SSD Guidelines and SSI Guidelines. These guidelines address issues such as:
- how an EIS should be prepared, for example by prescribing the structure and indicative page limits for an EIS;
- how cumulative impacts should be assessed; and
- how DPIE will engage with the community, local councils and government agencies.
The proposed amendments to the EP&A Regulation also include:
- for SSD projects, clarification that an application may be amended or varied at any time prior to determination with the agreement of the consent authority; and
- for SSI projects, a requirement the application to include a scoping report, which must be considered by the Secretary in preparing SEARs.
Registered environmental assessment practitioners (REAPs) scheme
The proposed amendments to the EP&A Regulation also introduce a scheme that requires an EIS to be certified before being submitted. This seeks to ensure that an EIS is prepared to a high standard and that the public has greater confidence in an EIS.
The scheme is detailed in the REAPs Guidelines and involves two main aspects:
- Accreditation of REAPs: To become a REAP, a practitioner must be a member of an accredited professional scheme. Among other things, the criteria of accreditation will require a practitioner to have at least 10 years of full-time equivalent experience in environmental or planning practice.
- Certification of an EIS: After an EIS has been completed, a REAP must review it and certify that it complies with the relevant requirements. An EIS can only be submitted if a REAP has certified it.
You can view the exhibited documents and make a submission on the NSW Planning Portal. You can also send a written submission to DPIE by post.
Public submissions will close on 12 February 2021.
By Peter Briggs, Partner, Tom Dougherty, Senior Associate and Zhongwei Wang, Solicitor.
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