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Displaying items by tag: biodiversity

In May the NSW government released regulations and codes that provide some of the detail on how the biodiversity legislation will operate in practice. But it is not complete so there is still a lot of uncertainty. The call for submissions is an opportunity to express a view on what should be in the areas that are missing as well as the available drafts.

There is a large volume of information to digest. The most useful one is the Submission Guide: Ecological Sustainable Development.

Consistent with STEP’s interests we focus on the aspects that relate to the management and preservation of urban bushland. Refer to our article on the issues regarding the Biodiversity Offsets Scheme.

The major areas that are missing are the Vegetation State Environment Planning Policy (Vegetation SEPP) and some of the maps that will underpin the decision-making process. This is most unsatisfactory! The legislation is due to come into force on 25 August. It is an abuse of due process to be conducting consultation on incomplete information.

The Vegetation SEPP will regulate clearing of vegetation in urban areas and environmental conservation/management zones where clearing does not otherwise require development consent under the main planning act, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. So the zones that are covered include E2, E3 and E4 zones.

The major concern is the inclusion of E2 zones in the clearing provisions. This zone is for areas with high ecological, scientific, cultural or aesthetic values outside national parks and nature reserves. The zone provides the highest level of protection, management and restoration for such lands whilst allowing uses compatible with those values.

E3 (environmental management) and E4 (environmental living) zones accommodate low-impact residential development but contain, or are near, bushland so have particular environmental or risk factors.

So why is the Vegetation SEPP regulating clearing on E-zone land, in particular E2 land? Clearing should not be allowed except for bushfire safety and other protection reasons.

Examples of land that could come under the new regulations are near the Blue Gum High Forest area in Dalrymple Hay Reserve and the area between Berowra Heights and Cowan near the Great North Walk. Most people assume the latter is national park but much of the natural scenery enjoyed by walkers is zoned E2, E3 and even RE1 (public recreation) and would have little protection under the proposed SEPP. Some E2 land is protected by being a BioBanking site or part of a conservation agreement, but not all.

Sensitive Biodiversity Values Land

There are certain areas, regardless of land area, that will require a biodiversity assessment (and offsetting if clearing is approved) if they are mapped in a Sensitive Biodiversity Values Lands map. The definition of areas included is very restricted.

Comment for submissions

The final map is not available and we understand many parts of NSW have not been properly assessed yet.

The resolution of the draft map on the website is too low to identify particular sites.

Areas that don’t meet the definition and should be included are endangered ecological communities (e.g. Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest and Duffys Forest EECs), buffer zones around EECs and areas of critical habitat, e.g. Ku-ring-gai Flying Fox Reserve.

Will it be possible to nominate areas for inclusion? Local land managers should be able to have a say on what is Sensitive Biodiversity Values Land.

There is a real danger that clearing of EECs such as STIF could rapidly turn it into critically endangered. A council’s discretionary DCP would be the only protection. It takes some time for a change in classification of vegetation communities to be finalised. In the meantime will they be cleared beyond hope of recovery?

Clearing Provisions

The clearing provisions are determined by categories of development.

Development consent required

Development consent is required (under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act) for larger developments and infrastructure.

The Biodiversity Assessment Method (BAM) applies to clearing and the flawed offset provisions will apply.

Development consent NOT required

When development consent is NOT required, e.g. clearing of undeveloped land, the Biodiversity Offset Scheme (BOS) thresholds apply as prescribed below:

Minimum lot size

Proposed area of clearing

Less than 1 ha (10,000 m2)     

2,500 m2 or more

Less than 2 ha

5,000 m2 or more

2 to 39 ha

5,000 m2 or more

The thresholds are high.

For clearing above the threshold the BOS applies and approval will be determined by the Native Vegetation Panel. A biodiversity offset obligation will be imposed. Local councils could be given authority to do this assessment. We don’t know who will be appointed to the Native Vegetation Panel.

Clearing below the threshold will be regulated under the local council’s Development Control Plan (DCP) through a permit system. This will be the most likely situation in urban areas,

There is currently wide variation in the standards of DCPs, for example in relation to individual trees. Ku-ring-gai requires a permit for clearing of most native trees and vegetation and non-native trees while Hornsby only controls clearing of locally endemic native trees or trees in heritage zones. It is possible that the government will impose standard clauses in DCPs. Indeed would these be desirable if a high standard is applied?

Comment for submissions

It is essential that the objectives of clause 5.9 of the standard LEP are carried over to DCPs under the new scheme that is ‘to preserve the amenity of the area, including biodiversity values, through the preservation of trees and other vegetation’.

Submissions should explain desirable standards for the DCP regulations. One area that has not been covered is how the DCP clearing codes will fit in with the need for wildlife corridors and the Greater Sydney Commission’s guidelines for the Green Grid and minimum tree canopy cover.

Other Impacts of Clearing Regulations

A major issue with the local regulation of clearing is that there will be no monitoring of loss of vegetation communities and assessment of cumulative impacts. There needs to be a database of regional clearing approvals.

There is uncertainty about the legal status of DCP regulations and the ability to prosecute if breaches occur.

Areas of western Sydney that will be subject to the greatest amount of new development need as much protection as possible of native vegetation and habitat. The Cumberland Plain Woodland has already had large areas cleared. The allowable clearing and the use of offsets under the proposed regulations will further reduce the area of remaining native vegetation and habitat.

Conclusion

Given the limited areas of bushland in urban areas, it is inevitable that there will be more losses of irreplaceable biodiversity. The offsets provisions do not adequately factor in the scarcity of suitable offsets in urban areas (see article below). The rules must be amended to ensure maximum protection of native vegetation in urban and E zones, particularly areas containing threatened species.

Please Send a Submission

Closing date: Wednesday 21 June. Lodge online or post to Land Management and Biodiversity Conservation Reforms, Office of Environment and Heritage, PO Box A290, Sydney South, NSW 1232.

 

 

Published in STEP Matters 191

The NSW government has been undertaking a major review of the biodiversity legislation in response to farmers’ complaints about the fairness and processes of the current land clearing laws. This has involved the appointment of an independent review panel whose report was released in December 2014. The report covered a lot more than rural land clearing laws and proposed a major revamp of the biodiversity protection provisions.

STEP Matters Issue 183 explained some of the concerns about the recommendations of the report, particularly the:

  • use of self-assessment
  • watering down of biodiversity offset standards
  • reliance on private land conservation
  • adequacy of provisions and resources to assess and monitor vegetation clearing

The recommendations, if adopted, would seriously undermine protections that currently limit development that is likely to lead to loss of biodiversity in rural and urban areas.

Prior to the 2015 election the NSW government promised to implement all recommendations of the report. Conservation groups have been calling on the general public to express their concerns to their local MPs in the hope that the actual legislation would recognise the issues raised but to no avail. The usual response was a standard email full of statements about the glorious improvement in biodiversity that was going to occur and made no acknowledgement of the concerns.

The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) set out to consult with key stakeholder groups such as the NPA and NCC on the drafting of the legislation. The process was such a sham that the groups withdrew from the process in February 2016. The groups issued this joint statement about the withdrawal:

We have provided detailed analysis and constructive feedback to help develop a conservation law that addresses the increasing threats to wildlife, soils and climate, but it is now clear that the government is on a course to pursue development at high environmental cost.

Direct talks with the relevant ministers also seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

On 6 May the draft legislation was released. The closing date for submissions was 28 June.

Application to Urban Areas and Tree Preservation Orders are still Unclear

Some aspects of the application of the legislation to urban areas are not yet clear. A new State Environmental Planning Policy and Development Control Plan for urban areas are yet to be released for consultation that will define the clearing controls and consent requirements. In fact it is not clear what consultation will occur.

Of particular concern is the proposal to replace individual council Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) with a SEPP to apply to all urban areas. TPOs are an effective tool for protecting urban trees and their associated biodiversity, amenity, heritage, shade and heat reduction values. TPOs need to take into account differences in the characteristics of urban areas such as topography, existing canopy cover and proximity to bushland.

No clear justification for the proposed replacement of TPOs with a SEPP and the purported benefits of this approach has been provided. The Final Report from the Independent Biodiversity Legislation Review Panel does not address TPOs at all.

Response to Draft Legislation

A major campaign (Stand Up for Nature) was launched by a coalition of conservation groups to inform the public urging us to contact politicians to express opposition and ask for the legislation to be withdrawn. The campaign has been very successful. Over 5,400 submissions have been made opposing the legislation.

On top of this response, just last week a group of over 400 scientists released a declaration expressing concern about the current and likely future rate of deforestation and loss of habitat and its impact on threatened species.

The government wants to pass the legislation in October. They appear to be determined to ignore expert opinion. Future generations will face the consequences. Pressure needs to be maintained on the premier to modify the draft legislation.

Government Statements are Pure Spin

Here are three examples of the disconnect between the government’s statements on the OEH website about the reforms and the likely outcomes according to assessments by the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), conservation groups and STEP.

Read EDO’s comprehensive analysis.

1.  OEH statement on ecologically sustainable development (ESD)

The biodiversity reforms will facilitate ESD in NSW. The introduction of a new biodiversity offsets scheme, including the new Biodiversity Conservation Trust and an expanded biodiversity certification program will, for the first time, deliver a transparent, consistent and certain approach to biodiversity assessment and offsetting in NSW.

Comment

ESD is a basic objective of the current planning legislation. Its application in the past has led to genuine offsetting decisions such as the provision of funding for preservation of Blue Gum High Forest land in Browns Forest, St Ives to offset BGHF cleared for railway expansion in Hornsby.

Under this heading the OEH identifies the flawed biodiversity offset system as the means of facilitating ESD. The idea seems to be that merely making statements about ESD will make it happen. How can biodiversity be maintained or improved when a developer will be able to pay money into a fund if suitable vegetation for offsetting is not available.

The proposed reforms ignore the principles of ESD; they do not take a precautionary approach; they do not treat biodiversity conservation as a fundamental consideration in decision-making; and they are very unlikely to achieve intergenerational equity.

2.  OEH statement that reforms will enhance biodiversity conservation on private land

Comment

The proposed regime places almost complete reliance on political, budgetary decisions (which may be short-term) to achieve biodiversity gains, rather than on protections to prevent continued biodiversity decline.

Who knows whether private landowners will be given sufficient long-term support to carry out conservation on their land?

Programs like the Saving our Species will fund measures to restore habitat for identified threatened species. But at the same time land clearing will be allowed that will destroy habitat for a lot more species. It is much more expensive to restore habitat than to preserve it in the first place.

3.  OEH statement that the reforms will set and achieve clear biodiversity objectives

  • The objects of the draft Bill emphasise conserving biodiversity and ecological integrity at bioregional and state scales and facilitating ecologically sustainable development.
  • The draft Bill objects for improving and sharing knowledge about biodiversity, ecosystem services and conservation actions will be achieved through an environmental monitoring, assessment and reporting program to be established by OEH.

The reform package will deliver balanced legislation and positive outcomes for all stakeholders. Landholders will no longer be the sole party responsible for conservation outcomes and will be able to undertake legitimate land clearing and management activities unhindered. The environment will benefit from significant new investment focused on priority threatened species and priority conservation areas.

Comment

As the EDO points out:

There are no clear environmental baselines, aims or targets. There is no ban on broad-scale clearing, no mandatory soil, water and salinity assessment, and no ‘maintain-or-improve’ standard to ensure environmental outcomes – either at the site scale or at the landscape scale. Provisions are less stringent, less evidence-based, less accountable, and are likely to result in significant clearing increases in NSW.

The government has made no attempt to quantify the extra amount of land clearing that is likely to occur.

Published in STEP Matters 186
Friday, 19 February 2016 22:16

Make a Submission on Biodiversity

Make a Submission on Biodiversity

Background

We have concerns about legislation that the Baird Government is proposing to introduce early next month. We are asking members to send an email or letter during February to their local state MP with the aim of persuading the politicians to modify the bill before it goes before Cabinet.

There has been widespread destruction of native vegetation in urban areas of NSW as a result of the 10/50 rules and infrastructure and housing development. Now the government is proposing to introduce a new Biodiversity Conservation Act that will allow further destruction in rural and urban areas chiefly through weakening the offsets policy.

Previously the requirement was that bushland and wildlife habitat destroyed had to be replaced under a like-for-like principle. If this was not possible then the development could not go ahead. The new proposal is that developers will be able to substitute entirely different vegetation or even just pay into a government environmental fund. More details are available from http://www.nature.org.au/campaigns/nature-laws/.

Contact Details

Here are contact details for local MPs. Also please contact your federal MP to make the point that the NSW Government is sabotaging Australia's greenhouse gas reduction commitments.

  • Anthony Roberts, member for Lane Cove, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 9817 4757
  • Alister Henskens, member for Ku-ring-gai, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 9487 8588
  • Jonathon O’Dea, member for Davidson, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 9880 7400
  • Matt Kean, member for Hornsby, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 9476 3411
  • Jillian Skinner, member for North Shore, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 9909 2594
  • Paul Fletcher, Federal member for Bradfield, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 9465 3950

Suggested Letter

Suggested points to be made in letters are as follows but please put into your own words.

I write in relation to the NSW Government's proposal to rewrite the biodiversity laws that protect nature across NSW in the city and country and seek your urgent assistance to make representations to the NSW Premier on my behalf.

The changes recommended by the Biodiversity Review Panel and accepted by the government risk a return to broad-scale tree clearing across NSW, loss of threatened ecosystems and loss of essential vegetation in urban environments. I do not support the proposed biodiversity offsets policy, under which there will be no requirement for like-for-like offsets and where developers will be able to pay money into a fund in exchange for destroying vegetation.

If enacted your government's proposals will result in a significant loss of wildlife habitat, release millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and reduce air quality. They will also increase soil erosion and impact water quality in some our driest regions.

The Federal Government is investing millions of dollars in planting trees to address Australia’s climate change commitments, and talks about improving tree cover in the cities, while the NSW Government prepares to increase tree clearing in rural and urban areas.

As my member of parliament, I request that you make my objections known to the Premier immediately. I also seek your commitment to protect existing laws and build on them for even more effective laws to fulfill the government's election promise to enhance outcomes for nature.

Published in Home
Wednesday, 03 February 2016 17:34

Biodiversity Laws to be Rewritten

In STEP Matters, Issue 183, p4 (Concern about Changes to Biodiversity Laws) we explained the reasons for concerns about the NSW Government’s plans to rewrite the biodiversity laws. The new legislation is due to be released in March 2016 and the indications are that protections will be significantly weakened.

Published in STEP Matters 184
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