Plant & Equipment

Planning more than just a one-step process

Planning traditionally encompassed the initial surveying and development application processes for either greenfield quarries or expansions of existing quarry footprints. As incumbent IQA President and former Victorian Chief Inspector of Mines John Mitas told Quarry, the “role of the planning consultant has been to assist the proponent to prepare the documents for the planning permit application, usually to the local council, and works approval to the [mines/primary industries] department. Assessing the quality and quantity of the quarry reserves was and still is an important part of the exploration stage of the project”.

Tegan Smith, the principal of Groundwork Plus, explained that town planning consultants formerly dealt with the planning authority only, ie the local council, about the zoning of the land or the planning code. Now their role is more encompassing.

“Legislative complexity, coupled with changes in public expectation, has resulted in town planners being engaged to manage projects from start to finish, including the leading of a multi-disciplinary team,” Smith said. “The planner is the strategic advisor for identifying project risks early, navigating complex legislative processes and negotiating a wide range of matters to achieve a balanced outcome that is certain and practical for the client, while also meeting social and environmental objectives.”

Indeed, the aim of the “game” is not just for a quarry operation to gain consent from civic authorities to extract aggregate but to address long-term issues in the consent process that enable it to operate unimpeded into the future. As Andrew Williams, principal of p&e Law, said, “The profitability of a quarry is closely tied to the restrictions in the development approval and environmental application. It is vital not just to get ‘an approval’ but to get a good approval that enables the quarry to operate without undue regulation and charges.”

“Consultants that understand the planning and works approval processes and how to articulate the impacts of the quarry operation on the community and environment are important for an application to be successful,” Mitas said.

“A poor outcome during the planning assessment process or an overly restrictive rehabilitation obligation can significantly increase operational costs or even sterilise portions of a valuable resource,” Smith added. “Doing it right the first time with an experienced planning consultant that understands extractive industry, pit planning and operational efficiencies is essential to a quarry operation intended to develop over 50 to 100 years.”

Both Smith and Williams cautioned quarry operators not to fall for the trap that the “bigger” the planning consultant is, the “better” they will be. “The most well-known consultant is not always the best,” Williams advised. “Quarry operators should look for specialist consultants who value and respect their clients.”

“Whilst the large company may have a ‘star’ consultant, the leg work is often undertaken by junior staff, leading to inefficiencies and mistakes,” Smith elaborated. “In comparison, smaller specialised consultancies with industry experience provide the comfort of knowing exactly who is advocating for you and your project. Extractive industry applications can be complex and a specialised, experienced consultant will identify key risks early, drawing on previous experience and industry knowledge.”

To that end, the ideal planning consultant should be “hands-on, with experience” (according to Williams), “know how the planning and approval processes work and understand risk management principles” (Mitas) and be capable of “negotiating specific obstacles that confront the project, such as community engagement, biodiversity values or traffic impacts” (Smith). All three experts agreed that excellent communication skills are fundamental – whether that be with quarry personnel, civic authorities, the community and the media.

Smith also emphasised the importance of planners building relationships with municipal agencies and advocacy groups, such as the IQA, and of maintaining a holistic relationship with their customers. Smith said an active involvement in industry bodies and advocacy on behalf of the industry is critical to a planner’s business; by providing advice to government and industry stakeholders on the development and revision of policy, the planner is more likely to anticipate changes to legislation that impact the extractive industry. Further, by maintaining a relationship with an operator that extends beyond the initial development application phase and includes ongoing pit development and end use planning, the planner and operator can ensure that the quarry’s strategic value is maximised over the whole of its working life.

“We particularly enjoy returning in later years to assist in rehabilitation and post-extraction land use planning development to see the optimum outcome realised for the land,” Smith said. 

Leave a Reply

Send this to a friend