The NSW Government has finalised the Cumberland Plain Conservation Plan and announced the establishment of a Biodiversity Credits Supply Fund and Taskforce. These initiatives seek to simplify the biodiversity assessment process for parts of Western Sydney and fast track the acquisition of biodiversity credits throughout NSW while improving conservation outcomes.
- The NSW Government has finalised the Cumberland Plain Conservation Plan (Conservation Plan) under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (NSW) (BC Act). The Conservation Plan removes the need for biodiversity assessment for development in parts of Western Sydney while providing measures to deliver conservation outcomes.
- The Government has also announced the establishment of a new Biodiversity Credits Supply Fund (Fund) and a Credits Supply Taskforce (Taskforce), which will improve the operation of the biodiversity offsets scheme under the BC Act.
- The Taskforce will coordinate conservation efforts and acquire and onsell biodiversity credits through the Fund, which aims to make it easier for proponents to acquire credits while encouraging the supply of credits.
Finalisation of the Conservation Plan
The finalised Conservation Plan comprises a package of documents. These include:
- a biodiversity certification order made under s 8.2 of the BC Act, which confers biodiversity certification on land in Western Sydney specified as “urban capable land” and “major transport corridor” — this means that, under s 8.4 of the BC Act, development on the certified land does not require further assessment of biodiversity impacts;
- the main Conservation Plan, which comprises the approved conservation measures that are preconditions to the biodiversity certification under ss 8.3 and 8.7 of the BC Act — these include 26 commitments made by the Minister for Planning, such as avoiding and minimising impacts on high biodiversity value areas and avoiding impacts on protected koala habitats;
- two sub-plans which provide more detail about the implementation of the commitments and the conservation of the Southern Sydney koala population; and
- a mapping tool that shows (among other things) the certified land.
This package of documents provide significant benefits to proponents of projects on the certified land, as it removes the need for assessment of biodiversity impacts. At the same time, the approved conservation measures will help deliver the positive conservation outcomes set out in the main Conservation Plan.
To improve the operation of the biodiversity offsets scheme under the BC Act, the NSW Government has announced that it will dedicate $107 million to the establishment of the Fund. The Fund will buy biodiversity credits upfront, onsell them to proponents, and reinvest the proceeds to acquire additional credits.
The Fund is expected to start buying credits from September 2022 and will provide an alternative for proponents who will be able to buy credits from the Fund rather than from the market at large.
The NSW Government hopes that the Fund will fast track the acquisition of biodiversity credits, making it easier for proponents to offset biodiversity impacts.
At the same time, Fund aims to improve conservation outcomes by supporting landholders to enter into biodiversity stewardship agreements that generate priority credits.
The Taskforce will be established to administer the acquisition of biodiversity credits through the Fund. The Taskforce will seek to minimise costs for proponents and reduce the need for proponents to pay into the Biodiversity Conservation Fund to meet their offset requirements.
The Taskforce will also aim to enhance conservation outcomes by contributing to a cohesive biodiversity strategy for the State and assisting with the assessment of land for addition to the national park estate.
The finalisation of the Conservation Plan and the establishment of Fund and the Taskforce are generally favourable to developers, as they seek to streamline biodiversity assessments for parts of Western Sydney, as well as the process for acquiring biodiversity credits throughout the State. At the same time, they seek to deliver conservation outcomes through the approved conservation measures set out in the Conservation Plan and encouraging increased supply of biodiversity credits.