Strategic biodiversity certification

Strategic biodiversity certification is only available to planning authorities.

Planning authorities for the purposes of biodiversity certification are those listed under section 8.1 of the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016. They include, but are not limited to, local councils and the Minister for Planning.

Loans and other financial assistance may be available from the Biodiversity Conservation Trust for planning authorities undertaking biodiversity certification.

Strategic biodiversity certification facilitates strategic land use planning outcomes at a landscape scale. An application for strategic biodiversity certification will usually include a range of conservation objectives and land uses.

Proposals suitable for strategic biodiversity certification will generally involve, or form part of, a strategic land use planning exercise. Proposals that have limited capacity to avoid biodiversity impacts due to function and design are unlikely to be suitable for strategic biodiversity certification. 

Project-based types of development that require development assessment and approval, such as state significant development or state significant infrastructure, are generally not suitable for strategic biodiversity certification.

The Minister for the Environment determines whether to declare a proposal ‘strategic’

When deciding if to declare a biodiversity certification application strategic, the Minister will take into account criteria set out in the Biodiversity Conservation Regulation 2017.

The criteria are as follows:

The biodiversity certification assessment area will usually include multiple land tenures, land uses and biodiversity values. While the size of the area is not prescribed, strategic biodiversity certification proposals are expected to achieve biodiversity outcomes at a landscape scale to maximise social, economic and environmental benefits. The ability of a proposal to demonstrate landscape-scale benefits to biodiversity through conservation measures is likely to be contingent on the size of the biodiversity certification assessment area.

Regional plans and district plans are prepared under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. Regional plans set the framework, vision and direction for strategic planning and land use in a region. District plans are a bridge between regional and local planning. Both plans inform local environmental plans, community strategic plans and the assessment of planning proposals. 

A proposal for strategic biodiversity certification should align with and support the goals, priorities, directions and actions, particularly those related to biodiversity, identified in any regional or district plan that applies to the biodiversity certification assessment area. For example, an application for strategic biodiversity certification would be expected to maximise the avoidance of impacts on verified areas of high environmental value and biodiversity corridors identified in a regional plan.

While it is not mandatory to seek advice from the Minister for Planning prior to declaring an application strategic, the Minister for the Environment is required to take into account any advice that is provided. The scope of the advice that may be provided by the Minister for Planning is not limited but may relate to the economic or social outcomes that the proposed biodiversity certification could facilitate.

The Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 adopts the principles of ecologically sustainable development as described in section 6(2) of the Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991. Ecologically sustainable development requires effective integration of social, economic and environmental considerations in decision-making processes.

Consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development, the economic, social and environmental outcomes that certification could facilitate are not considered in isolation of one another. For example, an application for strategic biodiversity certification cannot be justified on economic outcomes alone. Strategic biodiversity certification is expected to facilitate positive economic, social and environmental outcomes.

Strategic biodiversity certification supports the principles of ecologically sustainable development by facilitating environmental outcomes that would not be achievable at a site scale – for example, maintaining and improving wildlife connectivity. Avoiding impacts is integral to delivering such biodiversity outcomes in the landscape. Strategic biodiversity certification will involve locating and designing future land use to avoid impacts on biodiversity values and deliver strategic biodiversity protection through the additional conservation measures available. 

The conservation measures that can be delivered because of access to strategic biodiversity certification may be used to support the application; however, all projects will be considered against each of the criteria in determining the overall suitability of strategic biodiversity certification.

A formal request must be made to the Minister to have an application for biodiversity certification declared strategic. Information included in the request should be guided by Request to declare biodiversity certification application as strategic – addressing the criteria (DOC 31KB).

The Minister will consider a request for strategic declaration on its merits based on the evidence provided. If you are considering requesting a strategic declaration, it is recommended that you contact the department to discuss your proposal prior to submitting your request.

The Department of Planning and Environment maintains a list of biodiversity certification proposals declared strategic.

Additional conservation measures available

In addition to the retirement of biodiversity credits, an applicant for strategic biodiversity certification can access additional conservation measures including:

  • reservation of land under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NPW Act)
  • adoption of development controls or state infrastructure contributions under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act) that conserve or enhance the natural environment
  • any other measure determined to be an approved conservation measure by the Minister for the Environment.

The offset rules do not apply to strategic biodiversity certification.

Guidance on designing conservation measures for strategic biodiversity certification is available in the Conservation measures in strategic applications for biodiversity certification: Guidance for planning authorities.