Key features of the new legislation
The Biodiversity Assessment Method (BAM) is a new scientific method that assesses biodiversity and calculates losses and gains at development and stewardship sites
Accredited assessors will carry out all BAM assessments and the Minister for the Environment will be responsible for establishing the accreditation scheme
The biodiversity offsets scheme includes rules that govern how biodiversity offsets will be used, to ensure they deliver clear conservation outcomes
Obligations to secure offsets can be met by contributing to the Biodiversity Conservation Fund to be managed by the Biodiversity Conservation Trust
The Biodiversity Assessment Method
The Biodiversity Assessment Method (BAM) is a new scientific method that assesses biodiversity and calculates losses and gains at development and stewardship sites. At development sites, it requires proponents to consider ways to avoid and minimise impacts before calculating an equivalent offset for any residual impacts that have not been avoided or mitigated against.
Stakeholders expressed strong views that a clear environmental standard is essential for the BAM to be scientifically robust. The new Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 establishes a standard of no net loss for the BAM.
The Biodiversity Offsets Scheme and Fund
The biodiversity offsets scheme will include a set of rules that govern how offsets must be secured. The offsets scheme will help to compensate for potential impacts on biodiversity from development. For example, if an area of native vegetation needs to be cleared for development to proceed, another area of native vegetation can be permanently protected, enhanced and managed.
The Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 also allows a developer to satisfy an offset obligation by making a payment into the Biodiversity Conservation Fund, to be managed by the Biodiversity Conservation Trust. When a developer makes a payment into the Fund, the obligation to retire biodiversity credits is transferred to the Trust.
The amount of money a developer must pay into the Fund, to satisfy an offset obligation, will be determined by an offsets payment calculator made by the Minister for the Environment.
Proponents of Part 5 activities under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 will be provided with discretion to use the offsets scheme to assess and offset the biodiversity impacts of their activities. This will allow Part 5 proponents to access the benefits of the offsets scheme, such as a robust and consistent assessment process, and the option to meet an offset requirement through payment into the Biodiversity Conservation Fund.
The offsets scheme also includes the concept of serious and irreversible impacts. These impacts must be avoided for non-major projects (i.e. Part 4 development, non-state significant development). The definition of serious and irreversible impacts will be defined in the Regulation to be developed in 2017.
Stakeholders also expressed strong views about the policy settings in the offsets scheme, such as the ability for a consent authority to reduce offset requirements and flexibility within the offset rules. The Chief Executive of the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage will now be responsible for providing concurrence when offset requirements are discounted for Part 4 proponents. The offsets scheme, combined with the investments in private land conservation and threatened species programs should achieve the legislated objective to conserve biodiversity at bioregional and state scales.
A cost benefit analysis of the offsets scheme will be undertaken before the scheme commences. This will provide more details on the potential impact and benefits of the scheme to different types of development and the environment.
Consultation will continue
- The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage is finalising a BAM tool for field testing in early 2017. The BAM and the BAM tool will be exhibited in the first half of 2017.
- Regulation that gives effect to the legislation will include a risk based threshold that will trigger a BAM assessment, associated offset scheme settings, offset rules and details around identifying serious and irreversible impacts. These will be exhibited for consultation in the first half of 2017.