In May 2016, as part of an election commitment to improve land management in Lightning Ridge and recognising the unique circumstances surrounding dual land use activities in the area, the Government issued offers to a number of leaseholders as part of the Voluntary Surrender Scheme for Western Lands Leases at Lightning Ridge. This Scheme is one of a number of reforms aimed at improving the relationship between leaseholders and opal miners.
Under the Scheme, leaseholders within Opal Prospecting Areas 1, 2 and 3 were given an opportunity to express interest in surrendering lots heavily affected by opal mining. In order to ensure a fair and reasonable value was offered, an independent and experienced Western Land Leases valuer, Herron Todd White, was appointed.
Herron Todd White followed the standard industry approach in undertaking valuations, which considered a number of factors including any improvements the leaseholder had made to their property.
This one-off offer has resulted in acceptances of offers for property lots that host over 800 mineral claims, or around 25% of all mineral claims in Lightning Ridge (OPAs 1, 2 3, and 4). This will mean that on completion of the VSS process, nearly half of all mineral claims will be on land managed by the Lightning Ridge and Surrounding Opal Fields Management Reserve Trust.
Completion (“settlement") will occur at various dates throughout 2016-17 to enable leaseholders to complete harvesting, sell stock and machinery, etc. Due to the very limited number of landholders and properties involved, individual details will not be released.
Most surrendered ridge land will ultimately be added to the Lightning Ridge and Surrounding Opal Fields Management Reserve. The more agriculturally productive plains within the surrendered property lots will be returned to agricultural use. The Department of Industry - Lands will manage the classification and sale of these lands.
Remaining leaseholders will continue to operate in the existing dual land use regulatory framework and will continue to co-exist with opal mining activity.
The Department will continue to work to strengthen the regulation and compliance regime for the industry. This includes continuing its compliance and enforcement activities in the Lightning Ridge area, with the most recent compliance program being carried out in July 2016.
Leaseholders with cause for complaint about mining activities should contact the Lightning Ridge office on 02 6829 9200. Leaseholders may also wish to visit Incident reporting.