A PLANNING objective to achieve a net gain in the extent and quality of native vegetation in Victoria will be replaced with a new objective that aims to ensure that permitted clearing of native vegetation results in no net loss, under new reforms announced by the Victorian Government this week.
The reforms to the regulations for the permitted clearing of native vegetation aim to deliver better environmental outcomes and reduce confusion and costly green tape for landholders and farmers, according to the Victorian Government.
Environment and Climate Change Minister Ryan Smith said the changes were about striking the right balance between protecting the environment and assisting the state's farmers and landholders to make the best possible decisions about managing their land.
The new regulations detail how impacts on biodiversity will be considered in relation to planning applications to remove vegetation for farming, housing and major infrastructure projects, and how permitted clearing is best offset to maintain biodiversity values.
The reforms follow the release last year of the government's consultation paper, Future Directions for Native Vegetation in Victoria, as part of a review of the permitted clearing regulations and their contribution to achieving Victoria's biodiversity objectives.
"Feedback from the consultation paper made it clear that the native vegetation permitted clearing regulations needed to be more transparent, with clear objectives for landowners and the environment that can be easily understood and implemented," Mr Smith said.
"Criticisms of the old system from sectors including local councils, planning authorities, farmers and property owners, highlighted the need to address excessive green tape, a lack of clarity between the roles of state and local government, extensive costs for landholders and excessive delays in decision-making."
The Minister said the reforms will make the system easier to use by creating a clearer and more efficient process for land managers and ensuring better and more targeted environmental outcomes for the state.
The four priority reforms are:
- Clarify and amend the objective of the permitted clearing regulations;
- Improve how the biodiversity value of native vegetation is defined and measured;
- Improve decision making; and
- Ensure offsets provide appropriate compensation for the environment.
To support the implementation of the priority reforms, five supporting reforms will also be implemented:
- Define state and local government regulatory and planning roles;
- Better regulatory performance;
- Improve offset market functionality;
- New approaches to compliance and enforcement; and
- Continuous improvement program.
According to the government, Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) figures show around 90 per cent of permits for native vegetation removal have a very low impact on biodiversity values, with many of these relating to house extensions or changes to farming practices.
"These reforms to the native vegetation permitted clearing regulations will significantly reduce the cost and time involved with the majority of these applications through the introduction of an over-the-counter offset purchasing system. The reforms will also ensure that offset requirements more accurately match the level of environmental impact," Mr Smith said.
"Low impact applications may result in the landholder choosing to replant trees on another part of their property, agreeing to fence off and conserve existing remnant vegetation, or purchase offset credits over-the-counter or online."
The option of buying over-the-counter credits for low risk/low impact permits has already been trialled by DEPI in Bendigo and the Department is looking to establish similar schemes in other local council areas.
Under the changes, clauses 12.01 Biodiversity, 52.16 Native vegetation precinct plan, 52.17 Native vegetation, 66.02 Use and development referrals and 81.01 Table of documents incorporated in this scheme of the Victorian Planning Provisions will be amended to support the implementation of the reforms.
The proposed amendments to the Victorian Planning Provisions have been released and are expected to commence in September 2013.
More information is available from the Department of Environment and Primary Industries Native Vegetation website at <http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/nativevegetation>.