AS part of a broader review of state environmental planning policies, the Department of Planning and Environment is overhauling number 55, the document that covers the treatment of contaminated land.
While it is good to see the bureaucracy making sure its rules and regulations are fit for purpose, Lake Macquarie City Council has taken a close look at the proposed changes and is worried that some of them could have a negative impact when it comes to the council’s biggest contamination headache, the toxic legacy of the Pasminco lead and zinc smelter.
As regular Newcastle Herald readers will know, the system as it stands has left property owners – including the council – in the lurch. Sometimes the issue is lead content in soil. At other times it’s discovery of buried lead slag, used over the decades as cheap fill.
But as the council argues in a submission to the department, lead contamination is such a “straightforward” problem in the Boolaroo area that some of the proposed extra reporting requirements will hinder both the council and land owners when it comes to the practical side of remediation. It wants Lake Macquarie declared alongside Broken Hill as a “special area” of lead contamination.
It is also opposed to a proposal whereby work would have to stop, and a certified contaminated land consultant engaged, each time “unexpected” contamination was discovered.
Of course, it could be argued that no lead contamination could be “unexpected” in Lake Macquarie, but the council appears to believe its road works crews, for example, would be regularly caught by such an obligation.
While the council – and the Herald – accept the need to keep the most accurate maps possible of contaminated land, it also makes sense to clear as much red tape as possible from the remediation process.
Ultimately, however, it will take more than some changes to a statewide planning policy to erase the Pasminco legacy. As we have argued repeatedly, this lead-affected area needs a serious application of political will, and taxpayer funding, to help re-set the scales for those wanting, or needing, to deal with their individual backyard contaminations. Until this happens, the battle to remediate the land around the smelter site will be a never-ending story.
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