Councils have rights
NORTH Coast councils are able to refuse coal seam gas companies permission to use council-controlled roads for industry activities according to legal advice obtained by Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils.
The organisation, which represents Ballina, Byron, Clarence Valley, Kyogle, Lismore City, Richmond Valley and Tweed Shire councils sought the advice following a decision by Lismore City Council in December to refuse coal seam gas company Metgasco permission to undertake seismic testing on council-controlled roads.
The advice was also sought to clarify the legal position after Lismore City and Kyogle councils' imposed a moratorium on coal seam gas development on land they control.
According to the advice, which was provided by Sydney-based law firm Marylou Potts Pty Ltd, a council can refuse a coal seam gas company access under provisions of the state Petroleum (Onshore) Act and the Roads Act.
"Under the Petroleum Act we can claim that our roadside reserves and our public roads are 'improvements' and therefore we can refuse consent," Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell told the Northern Star.
However, according to the advice, council's would lose their right to refuse consent under the Roads Act if the coal seam gas activity was deemed a "state significant development".
Council's would retain their rights to deny consent under the Petroleum (Onshore) Act regardless of state significant development status.
Cr Dowell acknowledged the legal position would be subject to interpretation and any decision by a council could be challenged in the Land and Environment Court.\
"In any of these cases there are lots of different points of law and it would be up to the lawyers representing both sides to argue on those particular points of law and precedence. I am no lawyer, so I will leave that to them," she said.
Lock the Gate Northern Rivers' spokesman Ian Gaillard said North Coast residents would be heartened to hear local governments do have some power to stop coal seam gas development.
However, he said it was of "great concern" that the wishes of local governments could be overridden by the State Government.
"The fact the State Government can declare a project to be of 'state significance' and override (Roads Act powers) leaves residents of the Northern Rivers wondering whether the government is really representing their interests, especially where residents specifically declare by majority that they do not wish to have gas fields in their region," Mr Gaillard said.
A spokesman for the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, which represents the industry, criticised the council's for seeking the advice saying people living in NSW receive a direct benefit from the industry in the form of royalties.
"It is disappointing some councils are spending thousands of ratepayer dollars on legal advice to stymie investment in jobs and their own communities," he said.