Statutory Endorsement of Earth Resources Work Plan (Quarries)

Overview


Red tape issue

To operate a new quarry, a business must have:

  • a work plan with statutory endorsement (from the Earth Resources Regulator);
  • a planning permit (from local government) and 
  • a work authority approval (from the Earth Resources Regulator).

The process for obtaining a work authority approval starts with a defined project for which a statutory endorsement of a work plan must be obtained from the Earth Resources Regulator. This requires a pre-application meeting to be held on site to which all anticipated referral authorities are invited and statutory endorsement referral to several authorities which may include WorkSafe, the relevant Catchment Management Authority, the Environmental Protection Authority, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Heritage Victoria and SPI Powernet once particular triggers are met.  In some cases Commonwealth environmental assessment may be needed.  These approvals focus on the planned operations within the proposed site for the quarry. Conditions may be placed on the Work Plan.

The next step is to obtain planning approval from the local government. This process requires referral to VicRoads, internal council departments and essentially the same referral authorities that were party to the statutory endorsement of the work plan. The focus of the planning approvals is on the impact of the quarry outside the site. It involves the usual planning steps of advertising the proposed project for public comment; and assessment of the proposal by the local government having regard to the comments from the public and the responses from the referral authorities. It may involve an application seeking review from VCAT. The issuance of a Planning Permit will be subject to conditions.

The planning approval plus the statutory endorsed work plan result in an approved work plan, following which the rehabilitation bond is negotiated and provided and the Earth Resources Regulator issues a work authority approval which will have further conditions applied to it. The conditions on the Work Authority include a master ‘trump’ condition that take precedence over the work plan. A similar process is followed for approving a new mine.

In practice this overall process operates very inefficiently, with long delays, much rework and duplication and substantial costs to proponents.  Referral authorities routinely do not meet their statutory timeframes for response, change their decisions between the work plan endorsement stage and the planning approval stage and exceed their authority in the depth of detail and obligation imposed on the proponent. 

Crushed rock is used to build infrastructure and housing. Delays are a prime cause of a looming bottleneck in the supply of essential raw materials for Melbourne’s growth. Stakeholders have identified that the price of crushed rock has doubled in recent years, increasing the cost of constructing and maintaining roads. If businesses spend more on input costs for infrastructure and homes, less money is available for productive uses.

Process inefficiencies are compounded by an absence of guidance on the strategic importance of extracting such building materials when referral authorities (and councils) are considering proposals.

Current status

The process to operate a new quarry and the delays encountered by a proponent are fairly reflected in the assessment by the Red Tape Commissioner. Earth Resources Regulation (ERR) has identified stream lining approval processes for new quarries as a priority action for 2016-17 through its Stakeholder Reference Group.

Through the Earth Resources Regulation reform program, ERR has identified a number of opportunities for improvement that will reduce its processing times, however the significant number of referral processes required to assess an application for a new quarry means that the ERR reform program will only address part of the problem. The proposal by the Red Tape Commissioner presents an excellent opportunity to address delays in the process that are beyond the control of ERR.

ERR agrees with the Commissioner's assessment that the rights of local communities will not be adversely affected through the proposal provided the planning processes remain robust, however it suggested that the inclusion of mechanisms for early engagement with local communities could further enhance the proposal by reducing delays through appeals to VCAT.