Developed for the planning institute of Australia, John Brannock and Daniel Tweedale present their in-depth report on the need for intervention in the planning of mining towns across Queensland.
Despite the substantial economic benefits of mining development, concerns have been raised regarding the associated social consequences, as well as the success (or otherwise) of legislative instruments to provide a regulatory framework which addresses the social impacts of mining development (Ivanova and Rolfe 2005; Brereton 2002).Rolfe et al. (2005) and Storey (2010) acknowledge that many of the social impacts of mining development stem directly or indirectly from three interrelated factors ? the introduction of atypical work schedules throughout the mining industry the shortage of locally available accommodation, and the dramatic expansion of a non-resident workforce.
A summary of key adverse impacts are outlined below:
- Dramatic inflation in the cost of housing and accommodation. As a consequence, significant numbers of people must reside in sub-standard accommodation and spend an abnormally large proportion of their income on accommodation
- Social isolation among workers living in camp accommodation and/or spending large amounts of time commuting this is exacerbated by the fatigue that mine workers must manage when working 12 hour shifts
- Mental health problems associated with such issues as depression, relationship breakdowns, and social isolation
- Physical health problems stemming from increased rates of alcohol and drug abuse, prostitution, and violent behaviour
- Declining visual amenity of townships due to growth in the number of houses occupied by multiple transient residents who neglect maintenance
- Increased income disparities between mine workers and those in less lucrative. industries. This issue is often exacerbated by the high cost of accommodation;
- Shortages of labour in other industries that cannot compete with the salary packages offered by mining corporations. Again, is exacerbated by the high cost of accommodation
- Increased population with consequential increased visual, noise, light, and vibration impacts
- Conflicts between local and non local populations, exacerbated due to rivalry over women, territory and status (i.e. wealth)
- Gender inequalities, increased crime rates and unsocial behaviours.
- Increasing pressures on, and insufficient supply of, social infrastructure to accommodate the increased population (i.e.medical and recreation services and facilities).
(Of course there are significant beneficial impacts of mining for rural communities in bringing investment, employment, reviving retail and community services and facilities among others. Blackwater in Central Queensland, for example, has a very high quality swimming centre, the Blackwater International Coal Centre and a Civic Centre that were all funded at least in part by mining companies.)
“…there is an apparent need for a greater commitment by both mining companies and government to more fully plan for the regional long term and strategic future of rural and remote resource towns.”
Many social issues are location and time specific, as are their solutions. Modelling which sought to develop and implement a ‘one size fits all’ approach to an entire region has often been counteractive, exacerbating inequalities and social issues rather than providing solutions (Selman 1995; Brereton 2002).
From a planning perspective, the strategies adopted by mining corporations to address the social externalities of mining development are often ad hoc, isolated and reactive. In most cases, broader community provision is driven pragmatically by individual mining companies out of recognition for the need to secure mineworkers, and key service workers (i.e. doctors, teachers, etc.) for their local workforce (Riley 2011; Franks 2011; Ballard and Banks 2003). These strategies present a number of significant challenges for planning policy.
STATE GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION IN MINING DEVELOPMENT
State government intervention in mining development has, within recent years, elicited public distrust, primarily stemming from perceived collusion between the government and the mining industry, the view being that the mining industry dictates to government (Riley 2011). These allegations are arguably founded in state policy reforms which favour transient workforce camps, the structure of contemporary mining industry (favouring high value, ephemeral deposits), and high demand and low supply of skilled labour that predominantly resides in metropolitan areas (Market et al. 2011). Adding to this discontent are exemptions within the relevant resource legislation (e.g. the Mineral Resource Act 1989, Petroleum and Gas Act 2004, and the Geothermal Energy Act 2010) which exempt mining camp development from assessment under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (SPA), where they occur on the respective mining or exploration tenement.
The Queensland Plan
As part of the Newman Government’s overhaul of planning and development provisions in Queensland, late last year the State released the single State Planning Policy and is currently in the process of reviewing both the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 and regional plans. At the same time the government released The Queensland Plan: a 30-year vision for Queensland, following extensive public consultation across the State.
The government says the working draft of the Queensland Plan will be completed in mid-2014 and delivered in 2014 by governments at State and local levels, to businesses, industry, community organisations an individuals.
It is not clear at this stage what status the Queensland Plan will have in moulding town and regional planning policy or influencing planning decisions.
As planning is inherently an urban activity, planning activities of a rural or remote nature often fail to consider issues of social equity in their decision making processes and in the delivery of regional plan outcomes (LGAQ 2010; Brereton and Pattenden 2007). The concept of social equity in regional planning is broadly associated with the reduction of inter and intra regional variations in employment and income (Marsden 1998; Selman 1995). This often eventuates to a core-periphery approach to regional planning. That being, the urban centre is designated as the most efficient location in terms of activities, capital investment, social infrastructure and planning intervention, while the peripheral rural and remote settlements are designated as supportive conduits for the advancement of the urban centres, unable to adapt to changing socio-economic conditions (Joyce and MacFarlane 2002; Jenkins 2004).
This would appear to be the case in Queensland, as the majority of major infrastructure projects outlined within the Queensland Infrastructure Plan are located within urban centres rather than their rural and remote counterparts. This results in the peripheral rural and remote towns becoming dominated by regulations, land use practices and specifications developed by the urban centres, which are highly restrictive of development in these areas (Storey 2010; Wilson 2011).
This is particularly the circumstance for rural and remote resource towns within Queensland, which are neglected by regional planning policies which often fail to capture the positive externalities associated with the dynamics of mining development and the surrounding localities in which they operate (Haleseth et al. 2010; Pitchard 2003). Instead, regional planning appears to largely favour deregionalisation strategies, which promote transient workforces rather than permanent settlement in rural and remote areas. This denotes a lack of confidence in the long term permanency of these settlements, which perhaps stems from a risk adverse planning approach by state government that seeks to avoid long term commitments that are dependent on fluctuating resource commodity prices (Brereton and Forbes 2004).
Despite indication of a more co-ordinated approach to housing issues, through the establishment of the (former) ULDA*, there is an absence of overarching regional planning that identifies future social infrastructure priorities in rural and remote resource towns, instead regional centres remain the focus of regional planning initiatives. Thus, rural and remote resource towns are often the victims of pluralised, fragmented planning landscapes, which have until recently been dominated by non-statutory regional planning mechanisms. This has seen social infrastructure often provided by mining companies, which are generally driven by profit motives rather than the sentiments of social responsibility (Jenkins 2004; Calvano 2009; Brereton and Forbes 2004; Brereton et al. 2003). Consequently, regional planning and development appears to be occurring through pragmatic and commercial decisions, with minimal consideration of the broader public interest ? which is only considered when planning policy exists and can be statutorily enforced.
To this end, there is an apparent need for a greater commitment by both mining companies and government to more fully plan for the regional long term and strategic future of rural and remote resource towns. Planning needs to occur in a more holistic and integrated fashion, which elevates the importance of providing social and economic infrastructure development specific to the needs of those communities affected by mining development. Without a restructuring of the regional planning agenda which recognises the importance of rural and remote resource towns, rural and remote areas will continue to suffer from neglect by higher order authorities. It is recommended that this would be best done through regional regimes which incorporate and balance regionalisation strategies with existing de-regionalisation targets.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION IN MINING DEVELOPMENT
As the tier of government directly responsible for, and engaged in, the daily governance of local communities, the issues confronting local governments responsible for Queensland?s rural and remote resource towns are complex and diverse (Burdge et al. 2009; Bromley 2003; APH 2012). Many local governments struggle to address issues that arise from mining development, such as insufficient social infrastructure, unaffordable housing, incompatible and unskilled workforces, social segregation, insufficient community services, and increased risks to public safety (Bromley 2003; Ivanova et al. 2005; APH 2012).
These issues are often compounded by the internal influences of policy, legislation and funding issues perpetuated by state government. In Queensland, the authority of local government is ultimately bound by the jurisdiction of the state. That is to say that local government is restricted to the legislative and policy frameworks designated by the state government – if local and state government policy conflicts, the later must prevail. Given the significant interest of the state in mining, rural and remote resource towns are often restricted in their ability to direct such development. In circumstances where external policies and regulations determine the management of mining development, it is important that local authorities are not undermined (LGQA 2010; Martin 2006; Lapalme 2003). The role of local governments in rural towns should be acknowledged and included in decision making processes, however bodies such as the (former) ULDA* bring a knowledge and resource base more extensive than contained within rural local governments. This presents great opportunity for local governments to extract knowledge and expertise regarding planning methods and policy approaches.Policy conflicts also impede the opportunity for local government to create self sustaining and resilient towns (Riley 2011; Wilson 20 11; Brereton et al. 2003; APH 2012). To avoid conflicting policy and to provide local government with an elevated role in the governance of mining development, the opportunity to establish a department, subordinate agency or committee with the explicit responsibility for the sustainable management of rural and remote resource towns, or with the shared responsibility between departments, could be pursued. In the situation where mining associated development, such as non-residential workers accommodation, is adopted as an additional mandate to current planning policies, a municipal or intergovernmental committee to review related planning matters could also provide a solution.
The responsibility of this department, subordinate agency or committee would be to represent mining related development throughout the various branches of government with an interest in its practice and / or implementation. The responsible organisation could coordinate a variety of tasks, including identifying opportunities, facilitating the provision of necessary infrastructure, and monitoring the activity to ensure the delivery of long-term outcomes – a role (formerly) undertaken by the ULDA*.
Rural and remote resource towns become increasingly dependent upon capital transfers from state government to address escalating pressures upon limited social infrastructure. However, these are rarely addressed due to the fact that Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is unable to capture the population dynamics of the workforce associated with mining development (highly mobile, transient workforces) (Franks 2011; Higgins and Lockie 2002; Brereton and Forbes 2004). This trend is particularly important from a planning perspective in Queensland, where the provision of future services, infrastructure, and revenue is set by resident population statistics. This has serious implications for local governments; in that rural and remote resource towns that accommodate high transient worker activity must draw upon resource allocation for service provision which is not proportionate to the resident population, creating significant disadvantages. To this end, there is a need to develop a more accurate and efficient baseline dataset of the population statistics of rural and remote resource towns, possibly by analysing cross sectional datasets and developing temporal data on intra and inter regional workforce migration (Wilson 2011; Carp 2004).
“From a planning perspective, the strategies adopted by mining corporations to address the social externalities of mining development are often ad hoc, isolated and reactive.”
As previously mentioned, paternalistic overtones within the Queensland planning framework are presented in the form of Queensland Planning Provisions (QPPs). QPPs seek to provide a standardised format and structure for local government planning schemes across Queensland. As such, regional variability and issues intrinsic to rural and remote resource towns are diluted and marginalised in the amalgamation of planning issues which are predominantly urban inclined. This presents a need to develop a policy approach to location that differentiates between the needs of rural, remote, and urban populations (Harwood 2011; Halseth et al. 2010; Carp 2004).
Land tenure is another state influenced commodity which is having significant implications for rural and remote local governments, but is absent from local and regional planning initiatives. Often the expansion of rural and remote towns is constrained by the lack of available freehold land tenure. State government often opts to withhold freehold tenure in rural and remote areas, retaining the exclusive rights to the land. Consequently, any development of such land must form an arrangement with state government for a lease of the land. This often inhibits development due to the significant investment associated with a leasehold agreement and uncertainty. However, these leasehold arrangements are ideal for contemporary mining developments, which are inherently short-term and high profit ventures. Compounding the tenure problem, is the fact that lease agreements may prescribe an allowable associated worker camp, which as previously mentioned, is prescribed as exempt development and is not required to meet the provisions of the SPA. To this end, the state land tenure framework would appear to be more facilitative of mining development than the long term expansion of rural and remote towns (Harwood 2011; Riley 2011). To this effect, there is an apparent need for a tenure policy approach that is increasingly aware and compensatory of the impacts of mining development upon rural and remote towns. From a planning perspective, this might occur through mechanisms which seek to integrate mine worker accommodation within existing settlements and in a manner that is consistent with community values (Harwood 2011).
Local planning schemes, as the primary mechanism for guiding development outcomes, are key instruments for local governments in the regulation of land uses and development. Notwithstanding the above mentioned limitation that the QPPs prescribe, mining associated development, such as non-resident worker accommodation, is often not explicitly acknowledged as a use and is therefore subsequently unregulated under traditional land use classifications.
Land use classification systems are the most commonly employed mechanism used by planners to direct land use change, as they offer land use legitimacy. This also makes land use classification systems the ideal starting point for reform (Burdge et al. 1995; Riley 2011; APH 2012). Particular mining development, such as non-resident worker accommodation, has the potential to be established as a new land use or added as a constituent use under an existing land use classification. This is an avenue that a number of local governments have pursued in Western Australia, such as Port Headland and Karratha. Nonetheless, there are noteworthy counter arguments to legitimising such mining related development. By providing formal acknowledgement and inclusion of mining related development within local planning schemes, planners may actually perpetuate more constraints than opportunities. The reasoning being that once formally recognised as a separate and formal land use, mining related development becomes increasingly difficult to integrate into existing development or within other land use categories – adding further complexity to planning instruments. In this regard, it may be considered advantageous to incorporate mining related development into existing development under mixeduse land classifications. This would allow mining related development to occur, where appropriate, within residential, industrial and commercial zones (Marsden 1998; Harwood 2011). This would appear to align with the approach taken by the (former) ULDA* in the Blackwater and Moranbah UDAs, where the regulation of non-resident worker accommodation is dealt with under the residential land use classification. Arguably this approach delivers optimality between micro scale regulation of form and operation, and minimising additional and unnecessary planning complexities. Other opportunities for regulation could also be implemented via subordinate planning policies (e.g. infrastructure charges and community consultation, etc.) and local laws, which provide local governments with a means to uphold land use classifications and other non-location-specific policies.
REFORMS TO EXISTING PLANNING MODELS AND GOVERNANCE AGENDAS
Local governments must operate under the provisions of the SPA, which emphasises the notion of regional planning – an intermediate level between state and local planning mechanisms that concentrate on the specific needs of a region. However regional planning activities often fail to consider the unique issues of rural and remote settlements. Often regional planning designates an urban centre for which capital investment, social infrastructure and planning intervention is to be focussed, neglecting rural and remote settlements as mere conduits for the advancement of their urban counterparts. This has resulted in rural and remote settlements becoming dominated by regulations, land use practices and highly restrictive specifications that do not respond to the needs of rural and remote populations.
As a result, it is recognised that there is a considerable need for reform. In particular, local government needs to be given an elevated authority, providing it with the means to meaningful influence and regulate mining development. Unless local governments are provided the ability to regulate mining associated development proactively, they will continue to struggle with the associated negative externalities. To this end, the following recommendations are provided:
- The role of local governments in rural towns should be acknowledged and included in decision making processes. Collaborative inter-governmental decision making frameworks would help to avoid conflicting policy and to provide local government with an elevated role in the governance of mining development. Alternatively, establish a department, subordinate agency or committee with the explicit responsibility for the sustainable management of mining development on rural and remote resource towns;
- A more accurate and efficient baseline dataset of the population statistics should be developed to capture the population dynamics of the workforce associated with mining development (highly mobile, transient workforces) as well as mechanisms for monitoring. This would allow more accurate revenue and resource distribution by state government and would subsequently provide local governments with a greater resource base to draw upon to provide necessary social infrastructure.
- A regional policy approach to location should be established that differentiates between the needs of rural, remote, and urban populations in order to address the specific and unique needs of these populations. This should be informed by local planning scheme reviews which address the local limitations.
- A tenure and policy approach should be implemented that is responsive to the impacts of mining development upon rural and remote towns. This might occur through mechanisms which seek to integrate mine worker accommodation within existing settlements and in a manner that is consistent with community values which do not exempt mine worker accommodation from the provisions of SPA.
- Flexibility in land use planning approaches should be employed to allow the expansion and contraction of rural and remote settlements.
- Land use classification systems should be pursued that integrates mining associated development as new land uses or as constituent uses under an existing land use classification. This will provide the opportunity to formally regulate mining related development. However, consideration must be given to the counter arguments to legitimising such mining related development, such as a reduction in flexibility.
- Planning mechanisms or policy which provides greater scope for public
* As part of machinery-of-government changes implemented on 1 February 2013, the ULDA was abolished and the ULDA’s functions were transitioned into Economic Development Queensland, which is a commercialised business unit of the Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning.
John has collaborated with both public and private sectors on many mining related projects across a variety of state and territory jurisdictions. Such public sector projects have included planning scheme appraisals, the drafting of Temporary Local Planning Instruments and planning scheme amendment packages focused around the sustainable integration of workers accommodation and other mining related development.
Private sector projects have included the Alyangula Master Plan – a strategic vision for BHP Billiton’s Groote Eylandt mining operations through until 2031 – in which John was the lead consultant, the Master Plan for Moranbah West, a residential community primarily catering for the mining industry and a number of Social Impact Assessments for large scale workers accommodation facilities. John has also provided expert social planning evidence to the Queensland Planning and Environment Court addressing the social impacts of a large FIFO/DIDO mining development outside Collinsville.