Biodiversity certification

The Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 establishes a scheme for the biodiversity certification of land.

This page relates to biodiversity certification under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.

For information on the previous framework for biodiversity certification under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, visit Biodiversity Certification under the TSC Act.

For transitional arrangements for existing or underway applications under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 visit Transitional arrangements.

What is biodiversity certification?

Biodiversity certification is a streamlined biodiversity assessment process for areas of land that are proposed for development. The process identifies areas that can be developed after they are certified and measures to offset the impacts of development. Where land is certified, development may proceed without the usual requirement for site by site assessment. It is particularly suitable to be used where strategic land use planning is proposed or underway.

As biodiversity certification addresses the potential impacts on biodiversity during the early planning of land use change, it encourages planning authorities and landholders to design their development footprint in a way that avoid and minimise impacts on with biodiversity values and protects those areas. This:

  • achieves better environmental outcomes compared to site-by-site assessment
  • provides upfront certainty to developers and the community about the development potential and conservation outcomes for an area.

Who can seek biodiversity certification?

A broad range of proposals can access biodiversity certification under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016. It is available in both urban and rural settings, and both planning authorities (such as local government, the Department of Planning and Environment and the Greater Sydney Commission) and individuals can seek biodiversity certification.

Two types of biodiversity certification are available:

  • Standard - available to both landholders and planning authorities
  • Strategic - available only to planning authorities, to support significant regional development and planning processes. 

The Minister for the Environment will determine whether to declare a proposal as ‘strategic’, taking into account criteria set out in the Biodiversity Conservation Regulation 2017. A formal request must be made to the Minister to have an application declared strategic. Information included in the request should be guided by Request to declare biodiversity certification application as strategic – addressing the criteria (DOC 31KB).

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

How do I apply for biodiversity certification?

To apply for biodiversity certification applicants must complete the biodiversity certification application form (DOC 198KB).

The application must be accompanied by a Biodiversity Certification Assessment Report, among other things. This report must be prepared by an accredited assessor.

How are biodiversity impacts assessed under biodiversity certification?

Biodiversity impacts of biodiversity certification proposals are assessed using the Biodiversity Assessment Method (BAM) - the same method that is used to assess impacts for single sites under the Biodiversity Offsets Scheme. This ensures consistency of biodiversity outcomes within the planning system.

Standard biodiversity certification proposals must offset their biodiversity impacts by retiring biodiversity credits, as is required of individual developments under the Biodiversity Offsets Scheme.  Offset obligations may also be met by making a payment into the Biodiversity Conservation Fund.

For strategic biodiversity certification, the following additional conservation measures may also be used to meet an offset obligation:

  • reservation of land under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974
  • adoption of development controls (or State infrastructure contributions) under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979  that conserve or enhance the natural environment
  • any other measure that the Minister for the Environment determines to be a conservation measure. 

The availability of these additional measures ensures the strategic biodiversity certification process can respond to cumulative impacts and support enhanced conservation outcomes at a landscape or regional scale.

How does biodiversity certification work?

The process for biodiversity certification under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 is summarised below.

If you are a landholder or planning authority considering biodiversity certification under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016, you are encouraged to contact us early in the planning process. Contact us at Biodiversity Offsets Scheme Support or on 1800 931 717.

Before making a formal application, the landholder/s or planning authority (the applicant) will need to plan and design the scope of their project, including identifying the specific area that will be the subject of the application. This should be done in consultation with the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and the relevant local council. At this stage, the applicant may also need the assistance of an accredited assessor, who can also provide early advice about the site.

For proposals that may be considered ‘strategic’, the applicant or the Minister for Planning may a declaration to this effect from the Minister for the Environment. The Minster can also decide to declare a proposal ‘strategic’.

The next step is to prepare a formal application. In this step, an accredited assessor will apply the Biodiversity Assessment Method (BAM) to the area subject to the biodiversity certification proposal. Applying the BAM will require the assessor to produce a Biodiversity Certification Assessment Report (BCAR). This will assess the impacts of proposed development within the area.

For standard biodiversity certification applications, the BCAR will reflect the credit requirement generated by the BAM. The BCAR must identify the credits proposed to be retired to offset the impact. In the case of a payment to the Fund, the proportion of the credit obligation to be satisfied by the payment is to be reflected in the BCAR. For strategic biodiversity certification, the BCAR may propose a mix of conservation measures that includes credits to be required or payments to the Fund. The BAM provides guidance around demonstrating the value of reservation of land under the NPW Act or development controls in the BCAR.

Once completed, the applicant submits a formal application to the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

The Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and the Biodiversity Conservation Regulation 2017 include requirements for consultation and public notification that must be carried out.

This includes:

  • the applicant consulting with the relevant local council before undertaking public consultation
  • the applicant carrying out a public notification process, inviting submissions and providing a report to the Minister for the Environment in response to those submissions
  • the Minister for the Environment consulting with the Minister for Planning.

The Department can provide advice and support to applicants regarding consultation and public notification processes.

These processes must be completed before biodiversity certification can be conferred. The Minister may require additional public notification in the event of changes following the public notification phase. For this reason, it is recommended that the applicant have the BCAR reviewed by the Department before progressing to public notification.

Once the application has been received and the consultation and public notification processes completed, the Department reviews the application materials against the legislative requirements of the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and Biodiversity Conservation Regulation 2017, and technical requirements of the Biodiversity Assessment Method (BAM). This includes a detailed review of the Biodiversity Certification Assessment Report (BCAR). The Department will provide a recommendation to the Minister for the Environment on whether or not to confer biodiversity certification.

The Minister for the Environment has the final responsibility for the decision to confer biodiversity certification.  Matters the Minister will consider when deciding whether to certify include the BCAR, whether the proposed certification may have ‘serious and irreversible impacts’ and the adequacy of the proposed conservation measures.

The Minister may require the applicant enter into biodiversity certification agreement(s), for example to provide security about the future implementation of approved conservation measures. The Minister may specify in the order measures to be undertaken to avoid and minimise impacts.

Once the biodiversity certification has been conferred, which will be via an order made in the NSW Government Gazette, individual site assessments are no longer required and will not be subject to the Biodiversity Offsets Scheme.

The applicant must ensure it meets any conditions of the biodiversity certification order and implements the terms of any biodiversity certification agreements.

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, on behalf of the Minister, will undertake periodic reviews of biodiversity certifications that have been conferred. It will also undertake compliance activities to ensure that parties to biodiversity certifications comply with the conservation measures required by the certification.

  • If you are current applicant for biodiversity certification under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and need more information, please visit Biodiversity Certification under the TSC Act or contact us at Biodiversity Offsets Scheme Support or on 1800 931 717
  • If you are a landholder or planning authority considering biodiversity certification under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016, you are encouraged to contact us early in the planning process. Updated contact details will be provided here soon. In the interim, contact us at Biodiversity Offsets Scheme Support or on 1800 931 717.