NSW Farmers has defended the land access agreement template it has negotiated with the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) as the national corporation investigates the proposed Inland Rail route.
Criticised last week as giving the ARTC open slather to drill test pits, NSW Farmers policy director Robert Hardie said huge advances have been made from the simplistic and incomplete document first presented to landholders. It had evolved from a “form with boxes leading to a kitchen table agreement” to a “clear indication of what landholders were agreeing to”.
Upon seeing the initial document, NSW Farmers urged its members and all landholders, not to sign the agreement, sparking significant tensions between the association and the ARTC.
Mr Hardie was at pains to explain other proposed major infrastructure projects across the state’s North West have influenced some landholders’ attitudes towards allowing anyone onto their land. The Narromine to Narrabri section of the Inland Rail project will be largely a greenfield development, with the route deviating from existing rail infrastructure, and requiring track be built from scratch. Mr Hardie said the ARTC was now working from south to north along the route, in some areas across an unrefined corridor from 500 metres to two kilometres wide.
It is intended this will be reduced to a 60m-wide corridor.
He said the first template proposed was merely a three-page document and it was now longer and did more to specify the rights of both parties.
“In nine out of 10 cases this template will be sufficient,” he said, “some circumstances on some properties will warrant something further”.
Mr Hardie said the original template from ARTC had been disappointing.
“We’ve invested a lot of time in getting it right, we asked for agreed principles of land access and a document that determines how ARTC will go about its business.”
He said the obligations of each party were spelled out and landholders could withdraw at any time.
Still NSW Farmers recommends landholders seek independent legal advice should circumstances arise that are not adequately covered by the template.
While not directly involved in the NSW Farmers negotiations with the ARTC, senior counsel Ian Coleman has urged farmers to seek legal advice and said proponents of a project of such significance should have factored in farmers’ cost of doing so.
The ARTC has made it clear from the outset it would “pay neither compensation or costs with regards to legal advice”. Mr Hardie said it was critical farmers asked what activities the ARTC intended to do on their land before they signed anything.