CHANGES announced to biodiversity offsets policy for major state projects include allowing landholders to be paid for managing biodiversity or biobanking their land and not requiring 'like-for-like' offsets if they are not available.
Currently developers or mining companies are required to find ‘like-for-like’ biodiversity offsets but the changes will allow them, if they cannot find suitable land, to fund other conservation work of equal or higher conservation priorities.
It will also enable mining companies to use rehabilitated sites at the mine as part of their offsets strategy where there are good prospects of biodiversity being restored.
The changes were announced yesterday by the NSW Government and will come into effect on October 1 for a transitional period of 18 months, after which it is proposed legislative changes will be made to formalise the new arrangements.
Minister for Planning Pru Goward said the NSW Biodiversity Offsets Policy for Major Projects introduces - for the first time - clear, state-wide guidance on how to deal with the biodiversity impacts of major projects.
“The policy will cut red tape throughout the planning process and encourage sustainable investment in NSW because it provides certainty for stakeholders,” Ms Goward said.
“It is a win for the environment, farmers and industry.”
Green groups have condemned the changes claiming they are just another concession by the government to the mining and development lobby.
“The government’s new offsets policy is the latest in a string of concessions to the powerful mining and developer lobbies, which includes the biased Mining SEPP,” Nature Conservation Council chief executive officer Kate Smolski said.
“For too long, the planning system has allowed for inadequate offsets.
“This policy does little to address this issue.
“It not only fails to protect biodiversity, it may actually hasten its loss by allowing developers simply to throw money into a biodiversity fund rather than pay to protect similar habitat elsewhere.
“Such ‘flexibility’ undermines the credibility and effectiveness of the entire system.”
Ms Smolski acknowledged the government had removed, after feedback from the community, a damaging proposal in the draft policy that would have allowed ‘discounting’ of offsets based on claimed social and economic benefits
Environment minister Rob Stokes said changes would give landholders the opportunity to receive payments for managing biodiversity on their land through a fund paid into it by developers to ‘offset’ the impacts of large projects.
“A new fund will be set up, to enable stewardship payments to landholders wishing to participate in the biodiversity protections for major projects,” Mr Stokes said.
“Our aim is to use offsets as an opportunity for landholders to diversify their income and ensure they are a genuinely integrated part of the landscape.
“It will also provide significant environmental benefits by introducing a consistent, transparent and scientific assessment approach, which will put an end to ad hoc offsetting practices.
“The development of an offsets fund will enable a more strategic approach to offsetting.
“The fund will ease the burden on proponents by letting them make payments towards their offset, instead of finding offset sites themselves.
“We will commence work immediately to engage with landholders in areas where biodiversity offsets for major projects are needed.
“This will involve working with organisations on the ground, such as Local Land Services, to ensure information is available on the opportunities that this policy will provide.”