The Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (BC Act) commenced in August 2017 and changed the way proponents of State Significant Development (SSD) and State Significant Infrastructure (SSI) must assess the biodiversity impacts of major projects.
The BC Act requires that an SSD or SSI application must be accompanied by a biodiversity development assessment report (BDAR) unless the Planning Agency Head (or delegate) and the Environment Agency Head (or delegate) determine that the proposed development is not likely to have any significant impact on biodiversity values. This determination is referred to here as a BDAR waiver.
What is a biodiversity development assessment report?
A BDAR is a report required under the BC Act and is prepared by a person accredited (under section 6.10 of the BC Act) to apply the biodiversity assessment method (BAM). The BAM is an assessment manual that provides a consistent method for the assessment of biodiversity, including assessing certain impacts on threatened species and threatened ecological communities, their habitats, and impacts on biodiversity values. A BDAR provides guidance on how a proponent can avoid and minimise potential biodiversity impacts and identifies the number and class of biodiversity credits that need to be offset to achieve a standard of 'no net loss' of biodiversity.
When can a biodiversity development assessment report waiver be issued?
The Secretary (or delegate) of the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (the Department) has the power to waive the requirement for a BDAR when proponents of SSI and SSD can clearly demonstrate that the proposed development is not likely to have a significant impact on biodiversity values. For example, internal works to an existing building or development on a brownfield site with no threatened species habitat. The specific information required to support a BDAR waiver request is outlined below.
For the purpose of deciding whether the requirement for a BDAR can be waived, a proposed development could be considered as unlikely to have any significant impact on biodiversity values if it:
- will not clear or remove native vegetation other than:
- a few single trees with no native understorey in an urban context
- planted native vegetation that is not consistent with a Plant Community Type (PCT) known to occur in the same Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation of Australia (IBRA) subregion (e.g. street trees, trees in carparks, landscaping)
- will have negligible adverse impacts on threatened species or ecological communities, considering habitat suitability, abundance and occurrence, habitat connectivity, movement and water sustainability including consideration of any non-natural features, non-native vegetation and human-built structures
- will have negligible adverse impacts on protected animals because of impacts to flight path integrity.
Where there is reasonable doubt about potential impacts, or where information is not made available to the Department, a BDAR will be required. If a BDAR waiver is not granted, there is no appeal mechanism and a BDAR must be submitted with the SSD/SSI environmental impact assessment (EIS).
Even if a BDAR waiver is granted, the Secretary's environmental assessment requirements (SEAR) may outline further assessment for environmental matters that need to be addressed in the EIS, for example values not assessed under the BAM or matters for assessment under the Part 7A of the Fisheries Management Act 1994 such as aquatic threatened species habitat including:
- rivers, wetlands, lakes and estuaries
- marine environments
- assessment of environmental flows, fish passage and water quality
- marine protected areas and fish conservation.
Note: A BDAR or BDAR waiver is not required if the SSD or SSI is proposed to be carried out on 'biodiversity certified land' as described in Part 8 of the BC Act.
Impacts to threatened species habitat for non-native vegetation and human-made structures
If the proposed development includes demolition of buildings and/or impacts to other human-made structures, such as non-natural water bodies or other derived habitat features, there may be impacts on threatened species. Where relevant, the BDAR waiver request should include the details of potential habitat in non-native vegetation and human-made structures and demonstrate how surveys have been conducted for the presence of threatened species.
For example, to survey for threatened microbats in buildings proposed to be demolished, daytime roost searches should be carried out. A search is to be undertaken by looking for bats or signs of bats in suitable roost habitat during the daytime. All roost searches should use a torch to shine in holes, cracks and crevices, and carry a handheld bat detector to locate bats that may call. If bats are detected, observers must confirm the identity of the species and determine if the roost is a maternity roost. A description of the searches undertaken should be provided in the report.
How to apply
A BDAR waiver request should be lodged before the SSD or SSI application is made.
For SSD, it is recommended that proponents wishing to request a BDAR waiver do so at the same time a request for SEAR is made. This will help ensure that proponents are made aware of all relevant biodiversity assessment requirements for the proposed development as early as possible.
For SSI, the proponent should lodge a waiver application before applying for approval from the Minister to carry out SSI, which triggers the requirement for the Secretary to prepare environmental assessment requirements. A BDAR waiver application should be lodged and the request determined before the SEAR is issued so that the SEAR reflects the biodiversity assessment requirements for the proposal.
The BDAR waiver request can be lodged with the Department via the Major Projects website (or via firstname.lastname@example.org). All information must be provided in accordance with the information requirements outlined below.
A BDAR waiver determination will generally be made within 28 days of the request being received. If the information included in the request does not meet the minimum requirements outlined below, or if there is any reasonable doubt about the potential impacts, a BDAR waiver will not be granted.