Securing Planning Approval and EPA Licensing for Recycling Facilities in NSW

Securing Planning Approval and EPA Licensing for Recycling Facilities in NSW

By Dr Mark Jackson, Director, Jackson Environment and Planning Pty Ltd

With recent fires ravaging material recycling facilities in Victoria and New South Wales, the community and agencies responsible for planning approvals and licensing have a right to be nervous.

Excessive stockpiling and poor environmental management at some recycling sites can lead to such incidents. Facilities can be quickly shut down by regulatory authorities.

In NSW, in response to the excessive stockpiling of waste at some recycling facilities, poor environmental management, illegal dumping and a major fire incident at the Chesters Hill recycling facility for construction and demolition waste in February 2014, massive law reforms were introduced. Changes to the Protection of the Environment Operations (Waste) Regulation 2014 have had major impacts on the planning, approvals, licensing and operations of waste and recycling facilities. These reforms are amongst the biggest law reforms seen in NSW.

Seeking planning approval and an EPA licence to operate is a complex and time-consuming exercise. Our environmental planning and environmental protection laws have evolved over time to respond to community concerns in relation to waste and recycling operations.These laws are becoming tougher and more complex across the country.

In NSW, the State Government has committed to implementing aggressive targets for recycling, to be achieved by 2021, and has identified further recycling infrastructure investment as essential in meeting the targets. To reach these targets, it is estimated that a further 3 million tonnes per annum needs to be diverted from landfill each year.

The community expects that recycling facilities are designed, operated and managed according to international best practice, to protect and enhance the local environment. As a result, the assessment and approvals process for these facilities is rigorous.

Figure 1 - NSW Plg and Lic System1

Depending on the types of waste materials received, location of the facility, proximity to residential areas, distance to sensitive environmental areas or areas that experience flooding, the project may be assessed and determined by local council, a Joint Regional Planning Panel (in the case of Designated Developments) or the Minister for Planning (for State Significant Developments) in NSW. Figure1 is a summary of the NSW planning and licensing system and how it applies resource recovery projects.

To minimise delays in the approvals process, it is crucial to understanddevelopment constraints, easements, covenants and compatibility of the proposed development with the current land use zoning under Local Environmental Plans.Proximity to residential dwellings and sensitive areas needs to be carefully considered.

A pre-lodgement meeting with the local council is an excellent starting point to understand the planning and assessment requirements for the project. Meetings with the EPA and other agencies (NSW Department of Planning and Environment, Roads and Maritime Services, NSW Office of Water etc) can also help to outline the key development constraints and planning requirements. Involving the community early to inform project planning is vital as without community support, the chance of planning approval is low.

Following these good practice environmental planning measures, our team is here to help proponents save much time and expense in achieving approval and licenses for new and upgraded recycling facilities.

A shortened version of this story was published in Waste Management Review, October/November 2017.