NSW biodiversity offsets policy for major projects
The NSW biodiversity offsets policy for major projects commenced on 1 October 2014 and applies to state significant development and state significant infrastructure under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.
The NSW biodiversity offsets policy for major projects (PDF 331KB) commenced on 1 October 2014. The policy clarifies, standardises and improves biodiversity offsetting for major project approvals. The policy applies to state significant development and state significant infrastructure under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, such as highways, mines and hospitals (these are called 'major projects').
The policy aims to strike an effective balance between the needs of proponents, communities and the environment by:
- providing clear, efficient and certain guidance for stakeholders
- improving outcomes for the environment and communities
- providing a practical and achievable offset scheme for proponents.
Transitional implementation arrangements
The NSW biodiversity offsets policy for major projects (PDF 331KB) commenced on 1 October 2014 with a transitional implementation period. Using the policy is compulsory during the transitional period but some flexibility is allowed in how the policy is applied. The flexibility is set out in the policy. This flexibility allows for any technical or administrative issues to be addressed.
Initially, the transitional implementation period was for 18 months. However, the current biodiversity reforms propose an expanded offset scheme. It has therefore been decided that the transitional period, including the flexibility in how the policy is applied, will remain in place until the biodiversity reforms are finalised and the new offsets scheme commences.
During the transitional implementation period, additional options are available for securing offsets for projects approved prior to the implementation of the policy on 1 October 2014, or projects that were in a late stage of their planning approval process at this time. Additional guidance is available at the page Interim options for securing an offset site.
Addendum for upland swamps impacted by longwall mining
This addendum to the NSW biodiversity offsets policy for major projects (PDF 549KB) establishes a framework to measure and address the impact of subsidence associated with longwall mining on upland swamps.
Bilateral assessment agreement with the Australian Government
The NSW Government has a bilateral agreement with the Commonwealth Government relating to environmental assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act).
The Commonwealth has accredited NSW assessment approaches undertaken in the manner specified in Schedule 1 of the Agreement. The agreement endorses the NSW Biodiversity Offsets Policy for Major Projects and the Framework for Biodiversity Assessment as the basis for offsetting of the biodiversity impacts for most major development.
Actions that have been assessed under an accredited assessment approach under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 and in the manner specified in the Agreement do not require a separate environmental impact assessment under the EPBC Act.
NSW has not yet sought endorsement of the recently released swamp offsets addendum for the purposes of assessment under the bilateral agreement. Therefore actions with likely subsidence impacts on upland swamps may require additional offsets, as determined by the Commonwealth, for the purposes of approval under the EPBC Act.
Connection to the biodiversity legislation reforms
In June 2014, the Minister for the Environment appointed the Independent Biodiversity Legislation Review Panel to conduct a comprehensive review of biodiversity legislation in NSW. The panel presented its final report (PDF 1.4MB) to the Minister for the Environment on 18 December 2014. The final report contained 43 recommendations including that the NSW Biodiversity Offsets Policy for Major Projects be expanded to apply to all types of development under a new Biodiversity Conservation Act.
On 26 March 2015 the NSW Government announced that it will implement all of the Panel’s recommendations as an integrated package of reforms. The government is now developing these reforms. The reforms will drive positive biodiversity conservation outcomes across NSW and facilitate ecologically sustainable development and agricultural production.
Framework for Biodiversity Assessment
The policy is underpinned by the Framework for Biodiversity Assessment (FBA) (PDF 1.27MB) which sets out the process for:
- assessing biodiversity impacts on a proposed development site
- determining the biodiversity offset requirements for those impacts.
An inconsistency has been identified between the FBA and the policy regarding the circumstances where an offset is not required due to vegetation being below a certain condition. The practice note - Offset threshold for vegetation below a certain condition level (PDF 91 KB) has been released to correct this inconsistency.
The credit calculator is a web application that should be used in conjunction with the FBA and the BioBanking Assessment Methodology (the methodology). The credit calculator allows ecological consultants and industry groups to:
- assess the biodiversity on a proposed development site, in conjunction with the FBA
- calculate the number and type of credits required to offset the impacts of a major project on biodiversity
- calculate the number and type of credits to be created on a biobank site
- estimate the approximate area of land required for an offset.
Additional instructions for the new linear module are provided in the explanation sheet for calculations and input into the linear module (PDF 515KB).
A user name and password are required to access the calculator. User names and passwords are allocated by OEH to accredited BioBanking Assessors.
In addition to the credit calculator, a spreadsheet calculator (XLS 41KB) has been developed to assist assessors to calculate biodiversity credits generated from mine site rehabilitation (Section 12.2 of the FBA).
Development of an offsets fund
When the NSW biodiversity offsets policy for major projects was developed, it was recognised that it should be supported by an offsets fund. The fund will allow proponents to meet their offset requirement through a payment into the fund, if they choose. The fund would then buy the required offsets instead of the proponent. This will increase certainty for proponents and will allow a more strategic approach to finding and buying offsets.
Developing the fund will continue to be progressed as part of the broader land management and biodiversity conservation reforms. An offsets fund has been proposed in the draft Biodiversity Conservation Bill released for public exhibition.
Until the biodiversity reforms are finalised and the new offsets scheme commences, proponents will need to continue to seek their own offsets. The fund cannot be proposed as a way of meeting an offset requirement until it is established.
Consultation on the policy
The Draft NSW Biodiversity Offsets Policy for Major Projects was released for public consultation. The consultation period ended on Friday 9 May 2014.
Public input into the draft policy was very constructive. A total of 72 submissions were received from key stakeholders including local government, individuals, local community groups, development organisations, environmental groups and professional associations. Individual submissions are available except when authors stated they did not want their submission published.
OEH has prepared an analysis of stakeholder submissions (PDF 437KB) which:
- outlines and addresses the various issues raised by stakeholders during the public consultation period
- recommends changes to the draft policy resulting from the submissions.
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Page last updated: 22 March 2017