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SC6.22 Offsets planning scheme policy

Contents

1 Introduction

1.1 Relationship to the planning scheme

1.2 Purpose

2 Biodiversity offsets

2.1 Decision to use biodiversity offsets

2.2 Offset delivery options

2.3 Selecting and securing receiving sites

2.4 Calculating the size and scope of biodiversity offsets

2.5 Maintaining and monitoring biodiversity offsets

2.6 Reporting requirements

2.7 Managing multiple offset requirements

2.8 Securing land for conservation purpose

3 Koala conservation

3.1 Koala habitat offsets

3.2 Koala habitat and food trees

4 Biodiversity offset templates

4.1 Biodiversity offset feasibility proposal

4.2 Biodiversity offset management plan

4.3 Biodiversity offset delivery specification

1 Introduction

1.1 Relationship to the planning scheme

This planning scheme policy:

(a) provides information the Council may request for a development application;
(b) provides guidance or advice about satisfying an assessment benchmark which identifies this planning scheme policy as providing that guidance or advice.

1.2 Purpose

(1) This planning scheme policy provides information required for a development application, guidance and advice for satisfying assessment benchmarks for the outcomes sought by the Biodiversity offset code.
(2) The outcomes of the Biodiversity offset code are largely achieved through securing acceptable biodiversity offsets which will adequately:
(a) compensate for the loss of land within the High ecological significance sub-category or the General ecological significance sub-category of the Biodiversity areas overlay; or
(b) compensate for clearing of non-juvenile koala habitat trees on land within the Priority koala habitat area sub-category or the Koala habitat area sub-category of the Biodiversity areas overlay.

2 Biodiversity offsets

(1) Biodiversity offsets are used to replace the value of ecological features unavoidably lost as a result of development. A biodiversity offset is an action taken to counterbalance unavoidable, negative ecological impacts that result from a development.
(2) The Council’s biodiversity offset requirements are underpinned by the premise that offsets are to only be considered after all the adverse impacts on biodiversity have been avoided or minimised. Likewise, offsets will not be used to allow development in an area otherwise prohibited through legislation or statutory policy. The biodiversity offset provisions in the Biodiversity offset code and guiding material in this planning scheme policy have been prepared to take account of the land use planning and landscape contexts operating within the local government area. For example, the Biodiversity offset code and this planning scheme policy place significant emphasis on the achievement of functional ecological outcomes which are not predicated on replacing the exact vegetation community (regional ecosystem) type present on the clearing site as part of the biodiversity offset.
(3) The provisions are consistent with the Queensland Government Environmental Offsets Policy and the Interim South East Queensland Regional Environmental Offsets Framework, prepared by the Council of Mayors (SEQ).

2.1 Decision to use biodiversity offsets

(1) The Biodiversity areas overlay code requires that all available actions to protect and avoid impacts to ecological features, significant species and koala habitat be implemented, prior to the Council’s approval of the use of a biodiversity offset.
(2) When considering the use of a biodiversity offset, the Council strongly recommends using pre-lodgement discussions to provide guidance on the nature and extent of offsets and the selection of a suitable receiving site.

2.2 Offset delivery options

(1) Biodiversity offsets are to contribute to the preservation, enhancement and restoration of a robust and resilient biodiversity network in Brisbane. The biodiversity network is to:
(a) contain a diversity of habitats that are comprehensive, adequate and representative;
(b) facilitate the movement of species across the landscape;
(c) protect 40% of mainland Brisbane as natural habitat cover.
(2) A biodiversity offset may be provided through the following:
(a) a condition of a development approval under section 65 and section 66 of the Planning Act 2016;
(b) an agreement to ensure the performance of a condition requiring a biodiversity offset under section 67 of the Planning Act 2016;
(c) an agreement about an offset under section 65 and section 66 of the Planning Act 2016.
(3) There are 2 acceptable mechanisms for delivering the biodiversity offset and these are detailed below. The development proponent should advise the Council of the preferred biodiversity offset delivery option as early in the development assessment process as possible.

2.2.1 Monetary payment to Council

(1) For this delivery option, the development proponent makes a financial payment to the Council to deliver the biodiversity offsets on its behalf, including on-site implementation and maintenance.
(2) Monetary payments for offset delivery will be in accordance with a condition of development approval or agreement which will require a monetary payment in accordance with AO1 of the Biodiversity offset code.
(3) Offset payments must be made in full to Council prior to any vegetation clearing occurring on the clearing site.

2.2.2 On-ground habitat restoration works

(1) For this delivery option, the development proponent delivers all offset requirements, including obtaining necessary approvals, land acquisition, on-site implementation at the receiving site, maintenance and reporting.
(2) For this option, the biodiversity offsets must be delivered on private land and Council-owned land will not be made available to development proponents.
(3) Acceptable offsets for each sub-category of the Biodiversity area overlay code are outlined below.

2.2.3 Acceptable biodiversity offsets for the High ecological significance sub-category and General ecological significance sub-category

(1) Acceptable biodiversity offsets are:
(a) active restoration of degraded vegetation within or adjoining a High ecological significance sub-category or a General ecological significance sub-category, involving the removal and management of invasive species and supplementary plantings for active restoration where required;
(b) full restoration of cleared land within or immediately adjacent to a site in the High ecological significance sub-category.
(2) The biodiversity offset requirement can be achieved by providing an offset package which includes one or more acceptable offset actions.
(3) The following works or activities are to be considered as part of a broader offset package, but can only be undertaken in addition to at least 1 of the acceptable offsets identified above:
(a) vegetation management works, including fencing, site securing, rubbish removal, erosion remediation, pest animal trapping, strategic weed management and resolving edge effects such as lighting management;
(b) installation and enhancement of ecological features, such as nest boxes or hollow logs.
(4) The restoration of cleared or degraded land is to recreate the complete regional ecosystem analogous with the receiving site pre-clearing or pre-disturbance. Plantings are to comprise an appropriate diversity of canopy, mid-storey and under-storey native plant species at a density appropriate to the particular regional ecosystem being established. Direct seeding is not acceptable.
(5) There is no requirement for the biodiversity offset to deliver the protection or restoration of the same regional ecosystems as those at the clearing site.
(6) A critical factor influencing the ecological integrity of an area of vegetation as functional wildlife habitat is its configuration in the landscape, in particular its shape and the associated edge-to-area ratio. In the first instance, the offset should be designed to:
(a) minimise the edge-to-area ratio of the offset itself and the broader habitat area of which it would form part;
(b) reconnect a severed ecological corridor.
(7) The restoration is also to address any possible issue which may compromise the success of the planting, including bagging trees where necessary.
(8) The restoration and rehabilitation of land is to be informed by the principles and information within the SEQ Ecological Restoration Framework Guidelines and Manual which can be accessed at the SEQ Catchments website.

2.2.4 Acceptable biodiversity offsets for the Priority koala habitat area sub-category and Koala habitat area sub-category, where not otherwise in the High ecological significance sub-category or the General ecological significance sub-category

The acceptable offset is active restoration of koala habitat tree species on cleared or degraded land within or adjoining a Priority koala habitat area sub-category or Koala habitat area sub-category. This may involve the removal and management of invasive species and supplementary plantings for active restoration where required. Refer to Section 3 of this planning scheme policy for more information about offsets in the Priority koala habitat area sub-category or the Koala habitat area sub-category.

2.2.5 Unacceptable biodiversity offsets for the High ecological significance sub-category, General ecological significance sub-category, Priority koala habitat sub-category and the Koala habitat area sub-category

Unacceptable offsets are:

(a) works or activities that are already required by another component of the planning scheme, a condition of a development approval or another law or statutory mechanism;
(b) works or activities on a site which is determined by the Council to be an unacceptable receiving site;
(c) ecological research, surveys or monitoring;
(d) fencing, rubbish removal, edge effect management or installation of nest boxes when not completed in combination with other direct habitat protection or restoration activities;
(e) the installation or enhancement of walking tracks, recreational infrastructure or interpretive signage;
(f) the installation of wildlife movement solutions when not completed in combination with other direct habitat protection or restoration activities;
(g) the enhancement of already intact, remnant vegetation including supplementary plantings within intact, remnant vegetation;
(h) water sensitive urban design, stormwater infrastructure or other water quality improvement measures;
(i) landscaping works, landscape amenity plantings or planting of shade or street trees;
(j) purchasing or protecting land, where it is already:
(i) within the Conservation, Open space or Environmental management zone;
(ii) within an area preserved by an existing statutory environmental covenant or nature refuge agreement;
(iii) protected or managed for conservation purposes as a result of some other statutory mechanism.

2.3 Selecting and securing receiving sites

(1) The persistence and resilience of Brisbane’s biodiversity is to a large degree dependent upon the network of biodiversity areas identified in the Biodiversity area overlay map being connected and consolidated as a coherent, functioning mix of habitats.
(2) A key purpose of the biodiversity offset is to deliver an outcome which provides long-term, strategic ecological benefit.
(3) The selection of the receiving site is informed by the following principles:
(a) The biodiversity offset receiving site is located within or immediately adjoining areas in the High ecological significance sub-category. If this is not possible, the receiving site can be located within or immediately adjacent to the General ecological significance sub-category, the Priority koala habitat area sub-category, the Koala habitat area sub-category or an area conserved for biodiversity purposes.
(b) If the biodiversity offset is proposing to restore degraded vegetation, the receiving site is not to comprise mostly intact, remnant vegetation. The receiving site is to be mostly degraded as a result of significant weed cover, limited vegetative structural diversity (i.e. canopy trees only without understorey) and poor land management regimes.
(c) The biodiversity offset is to be preferably delivered on a single receiving site. If this is not achievable, an offset package involving the protection and restoration of multiple receiving sites is to be considered.
(d) If the applicant is proposing to transfer the receiving site to the Council upon the completion of the biodiversity offset delivery and maintenance, the following criteria are to be achieved:
(i) The site is to have established firebreaks and maintenance trails or have the capacity to have them established outside of the area proposed for habitat restoration, in accordance with Council standards.
(ii) The site is secured from unlawful access using appropriate fencing (barbed wire fencing is not appropriate).
(iii) The site is free of weed infestations.
(4) The site does not pose any immediate safety risk to anyone visiting or managing the land.
(5) Achieving these criteria is also highly recommended for land which is intended to be maintained in private ownership.
(6) Council-owned and managed land will not be made available to development proponents to undertake offset works.

2.3.1 Receiving sites for offsets in a Priority koala habitat area sub-category or the Koala habitat area sub-category

If the clearing site is within the Priority koala habitat area sub-category or the Koala habitat area sub-category, the receiving site should be located within or adjoining the Priority koala habitat area sub-category or Koala habitat area sub-category. Where this is not possible or practical, the receiving site should be located within or adjoining an area of the High ecological significance sub-category on land which supports or would have supported koala food trees pre-clearing.

2.3.2 Legally securing biodiversity offsets

(1) Biodiversity offsets must be legally secured in that the biodiversity offset and the land it is situated on is to be afforded protection and sufficient associated management, in perpetuity, using a legally binding mechanism.
(2) The Biodiversity offset code lists mechanisms considered suitable by the Council. Refer to section 2.8 of this planning scheme policy for more information about securing land for conservation purposes.

2.4 Calculating the size and scope of biodiversity offsets

(1) A key outcome of biodiversity offsets is that they should achieve a net ecological benefit.
(2) This typically requires the receiving site to be significantly larger than the clearing site.
(3) The scope and size of the biodiversity offset needed to meet the provisions of the Biodiversity offset code can be determined using an offset ratio.
(4) An offset ratio is applied because the loss of existing natural habitat cannot be fully replaced by reconstruction of habitat in another location within the time frame of the delivery of a biodiversity offset. The lesser functional, maturity and quality outcomes which can be achieved through a biodiversity offset is compensated for by the extent of the offset ratio.
(5) A ratio approach is applied to determine the quantum of offset which is to be delivered. The offset ratio ensures that an offset reflects the significance of the biodiversity values being impacted and the time lag, risk and uncertainty of restoration. The ratio varies, determined by:
(a) the location of the clearing area by sub-category as shown on the Biodiversity area overlay map;
(b) the total package of works being proposed to achieve the offset;
(c) for a location in the General ecological significance sub-category, the ecological significance of the area being cleared;
(d) for a location in the Priority koala habitat area sub-category or Koala habitat area sub-category, the number of non-juvenile koala habitat trees on the clearing site.
(6) The ratio is based on an area metric. For example, for every 1 unit of area lost, up to 6 units of area is to be replaced.
(7) The ratios are minimum requirements. A lesser quantum of offset will not achieve the requirements of the Biodiversity offset code.
(8) The process for determining the appropriate biodiversity offset ratio is outlined in the Biodiversity offset code.

2.5 Maintaining and monitoring biodiversity offsets

(1) Biodiversity offsets are to be maintained for at least 5 years.
(2) Biodiversity offset receiving sites are to be managed to ensure the success of habitat restoration works. This may involve installing boundary fencing, pest animal trapping, strategic weed management works and erosion management.
(3) The biodiversity offset management plan is to outline indicators and milestones for site maintenance which can be monitored and reported against.
(4) Any failed biodiversity offsets are to be rectified or replaced. Therefore, it is preferable that best-practice biodiversity management and restoration systems are utilised in the first instance to minimise the chance of failure.

Note—The SEQ Ecological Restoration Framework has been developed as a regional standard for undertaking restoration projects. The framework can be accessed from the SEQ Catchments website.

2.6 Reporting requirements

(1) There are 3 key documents required as part of the approval process for biodiversity offsets.
(2) A biodiversity offset feasibility proposal and a biodiversity offset management plan are required at the initial development approval stage.
(3) A biodiversity offset delivery specification is required at the operational work stage.

2.6.1 Biodiversity offset feasibility proposal

(1) The biodiversity offset feasibility proposal prepared by or on behalf of the development proponent is to provide a brief outline of the proposed biodiversity offset and compliance against the Biodiversity offset code assessment benchmarks.
(2) The biodiversity offset feasibility proposal is to be prepared and agreed to before any biodiversity offset proposal can be supported by the Council.
(3) A template for a biodiversity offset feasibility proposal which describes the essential elements needed to facilitate rapid scrutiny and assessment of planning information by the Council is included in section 4.1 of this planning scheme policy.

2.6.2 Biodiversity offset management plan

(1) A biodiversity offset management plan is a formal document prepared by or on behalf of the development proponent which outlines how the biodiversity offset requirements of the planning scheme will be achieved, delivered and maintained.
(2) A template for a biodiversity offset management plan which describes all of the essential elements needed to facilitate rapid scrutiny and assessment of planning information by the Council is included in section 4.2 of this planning scheme policy.

2.6.3 Biodiversity offset delivery specification

(1) A biodiversity offset delivery specification describes the implementation of the offset, including the detailed specifications, time frames and milestones.
(2) The biodiversity offset delivery specification is to be prepared and approved before any works can occur on the clearing site, or before any restoration work can commence on the receiving site.
(3) A template for a biodiversity offset delivery specification which describes all of the essential elements needed to facilitate rapid scrutiny and assessment of planning information by the Council is included in section 4.3 of this planning scheme policy.

2.7 Managing multiple offset requirements

It is acknowledged that in some situations, additional environmental or vegetation offsets are required by other legislation or statutory policies. In these situations, the Council will accept delivery of the offset mechanism which provides the greatest biodiversity benefit in satisfaction of Council’s biodiversity offset requirements.

2.8 Securing land for conservation purposes

The mechanisms available to permanently protect a biodiversity offset receiving site include:

(a) application of a statutory environmental covenant under the Land Act 1994 or the Land Title Act 1994;
(b) dedication as a protected area under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 such as Nature Refuge. For details, refer to Nature refuges on the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection website;
(c) transfer to the Council’s ownership, if approved by the Council;
(d) another mechanism approved by the Council.

3 Koala conservation

(1) Under the Queensland Nature Conservation Act 1992, koalas are listed as 'regionally vulnerable' in South East Queensland. The following planning instruments, policies and guidelines protect koalas and their habitat:
(a) the State Planning Policy;
(b) the SPP state interest guideline—Biodiversity;
(c) Offsets for Net Gain of Koala Habitat in South East Queensland Policy;
(d) Guideline - Offset for Net Gain of Koala Habitat in South East Queensland Policy;
(e) State Government Supported Community Infrastructure - Koala Conservation Policy;
(f) Nature Conservation (Koala) Conservation Plan 2006 and Management Program 2006-2016;
(g) Koala-sensitive Design Guideline - A guide to koala-sensitive design measures for planning and development activities.

Note—The above documents are available from the Koala legislation and policy page of the Department of Environment and Heritage website.

(2) On a national level, koala populations in Queensland are listed as vulnerable under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. If a development proposal is likely to have a significant impact on koalas, referral to the Commonwealth Government is required.

3.1 Koala habitat offsets

(1) Any development within the Priority koala habitat area sub-category or Koala habitat area sub-category or in the High ecological significance sub-category or General ecological significance sub-category in an area known to support koalas is to be designed to protect koala habitat. Unavoidable impacts to koala habitat in these areas needs to contribute to a net gain in koala habitat through a biodiversity offset. Unavoidable impacts include the impact that development will have on the quantity, quality and connectivity of koala habitat.
(2) Section 2 of this planning scheme policy outlines detailed requirements for the planning, delivery and achievement of biodiversity offsets.
(3) If the unavoidable impact is in the Priority koala habitat area sub-category or the Koala habitat area sub-category, where not in the High ecological significance sub-category or General ecological significance sub-category, the biodiversity offset is to involve planting koala habitat trees at a ratio of 1:5 (i.e. for every non-juvenile koala habitat tree lost, 5 koala habitat trees are planted).
(4) A non-juvenile koala habitat tree is a koala habitat tree species which has a height of more than 4m or a trunk with a circumference of more than 31.5cm at 1.3m above the ground, or both. Refer to section 3.2 of this planning scheme policy for a definition of a koala habitat tree.
(5) To determine the number of trees to be offset, trees can be counted manually or using an estimation method including quadrat methodology, count sampling methodology or another as approved by the Council. If the clearing site is mainly non-remnant vegetation, it may be acceptable to adopt the average number of non-juvenile koala food trees found within the remnant regional ecosystem, as defined by the Queensland Government.
(6) Other specific requirements for koala habitat offsets include:
(a) Offset plantings may occur on the site or on another site as approved by the Council.
(b) Koala habitat trees to be established as an offset are to reflect the pre-clearing regional ecosystem and the range of species present on the receiving site. The species planting should include a suitable mix of koala food trees.
(7) As with other biodiversity offsets prescribed by the Council, a biodiversity offset feasibility plan, biodiversity offset management plan and biodiversity offset delivery specification are to be prepared and approved by the Council. Biodiversity offsets for koalas are required to be delivered within 12 months from the time of the development approval, with preference for the delivery of the offset prior to any works on the clearing site.
(8) The offset receiving site will need to be protected in perpetuity.
(9) If the unavoidable impact is in the Priority koala habitat area sub-category or the Koala habitat area sub-category, where also in the High ecological significance sub-category or the General ecological significance sub-category, the offset requirements prescribed for the High ecological significance sub-category or the General ecological significance sub-category are to prevail. However, the offset must incorporate koala habitat trees and should preferably be located in the Priority koala habitat area sub-category or the Koala habitat area sub-category.
(10) For further information about Council’s requirements for the delivery of biodiversity offsets, refer to section 2 of this planning scheme policy.

3.2 Koala habitat and food trees

(1) A koala habitat tree is a food tree or preferred shelter tree which is a Eucalyptus, Corymbia, Melaleuca, Lophostemon or Angophora species. Koalas will however use all available trees and shrubs for shelter.
(2) Species recognised as preferred koala food trees within Brisbane include:
(a) Eucalyptus major;
(b) Eucalyptus microcorys;
(c) Eucalyptus moluccana;
(d) Eucalyptus propinqua;
(e) Eucalyptus racemosa;
(f) Eucalyptus resinifera;
(g) Eucalyptus robusta;
(h) Eucalyptus seeana;
(i) Eucalyptus tereticornis.
(3) The receiving site should incorporate a suitable diversity of preferred koala food trees.

4 Biodiversity offset templates

4.1 Biodiversity offset feasibility proposal

A biodiversity offset feasibility proposal is to include the following:

(a) a background;
(b) a description of the clearing site, including photos;
(c) an outline of development proposal and justification for why intrusion into the Biodiversity areas overlay map is unavoidable;
(d) an overview of the biodiversity offset being proposed;
(e) a description of the receiving site;
(f) an overview of the proposed delivery mechanism for the biodiversity offset;
(g) attachments including:
(i) a scaled map clearly showing the clearing site and the receiving site boundaries;
(ii) a table demonstrating Biodiversity offset code compliance.

4.2 Biodiversity offset management plan

A biodiversity offset management plan is to include the following:

(a) a background;
(b) a description of the clearing site, detailing the vegetation to be cleared, the remnant status of the vegetation and the function of the vegetation, that is, wetland, waterway or corridor function;
(c) a description of the receiving site, including land zone, modifications to the landscape, aspect, slope and pre-clearing vegetation;
(d) a summary of development proposal and justification for why intrusion into the Biodiversity areas overlay is unavoidable;
(e) a description of the proposed offset, including:
(i) aims and objectives of the biodiversity offset;
(ii) restoration plan including species, site preparation requirements, implementation details and maintenance details;
(iii) koala habitat restoration, where applicable;
(iv) milestones and measures of success and responsibilities for ensuring delivery;
(v) mechanism for the protection of the receiving site;
(vi) the parties completing the works, their experience and their best-practice procedures as they relate to vegetation management;
(vii) proposed ecological feature enhancements, such as type of feature, purpose of feature, sourcing of feature and timing of installation and monitoring;
(viii) vegetation management practices that will be used, such as fencing, installation of nest boxes, rubbish removal, firebreaks, access tracks, erosion control, pest animal control, edge impact management and timing of works.
(f) a demonstrated compliance against the Biodiversity offset code;
(g) an outline of auditing, monitoring, evaluation and adaptive management planning requirements, including:
(i) performance standards such as density of species to be achieved;
(ii) monitoring actions and time frames;
(iii) how the works will be adapted, based on monitoring and auditing results;
(h) an outline of risks associated with delivery of the offset, including:
(i) types and extent of risks covering weather condition, fire, access to site, vandalism, pests/animals eating plants and weeds;
(ii) risk mitigation actions;
(iii) details of reporting requirements, including time frames for reporting (reports should be provided initially at three-monthly intervals, then six-monthly intervals, then annually);
(i) time frames for approvals;
(j) details of proposed bond to secure the works, including:
(i) amount of the bond;
(ii) time frames and milestones for refund of the bond;
(k) attachments:
(i) a scaled map clearly showing receiving site;
(ii) biodiversity offset implementation plan showing the schedule of works, key milestones responsibilities and accountabilities and approvals and sign-offs;
(iii) a copy of the draft statutory environmental covenant and the associated management plan, if applicable;
(iv) a copy of bond agreement;
(v) an offset delivery risk management plan;
(vi) list of relevant legislation pertaining to implementation of offset works and/or copies of permits, such as animal ethics for pest animal management and Natural Assets Local Law permits.

4.3 Biodiversity offset delivery specification

A biodiversity offset delivery specification is to include the following:

(a) a Gantt chart outlining stages and time frames for delivery of the biodiversity offset (must also outline party responsible for delivering each action);
(b) specific details of works being undertaken, and the process for how they will be completed, including:
(i) process to secure land;
(ii) specifications for weed and pest animal management, restoration and planting, site preparation, maintenance and monitoring;
(iii) management of receiving site, namely fencing, firebreaks, signage and rubbish removal;
(iv) time frames and milestones for monitoring and auditing purposes.
(c) attachments:
(i) a map of receiving site showing on-ground management zones.
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