In February 2015, the State Government Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) released the working document Guidance Note for the implementation of the Biodiversity Conservation Strategy for Melbourne's Growth Corridors (Guidance Note).

What is the Guidance Note?

The Guidance Note is the Victorian Government’s tool for implementing the Biodiversity Conservation Strategy (BCS). The BCS is a requirement of the Commonwealth’s approval of the State Government’sDelivering Melbourne’s Newest Communities program following strategic assessment under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

The Commonwealth approval provides for the expansion of the Urban Growth Boundary and provides for the development of the Regional Rail Link Corridor (section 2) and the Outer Metropolitan Ring Transport Corridor.

The Guidance Note sets out how DELWP will implement the BCS and meet commitments to matters of national environmental significance which are protected under the EPBC Act.

What do developers need to know about the Guidance Note?

Under the BCS, land in the Urban Growth Zone is set aside as conservation areas on both private and public land.

As part of the development process, conservation area boundaries may require adjustment or developers may wish to carry out uses and development within conservation areas.

New criteria apply to applications to adjust a conservation area boundary

There are new criteria which DELWP must consider when deciding an application for the approval/endorsement of adjustments to conservation area boundaries. Among other matters, an adjustment will only be approved:

  • where it is necessary and there are no feasible alternatives
  • where the written agreement of all affected landowners has been obtained; and
  • where there is no net loss of conservation area.

New plans to be submitted under a Precinct Structure Plan

Two new plans are required to be submitted as part of the Precinct Structure Planning Process. A Conservation Area Concept Plan which show locations for land uses compatible with conservation and a Conservation Interface Plan describing land uses within 30m of the conservation area.

Approved uses and development may be permitted in a conservation area

Some uses and development are permitted within a conservation area with approval from DELWP. Any use or development resulting in a net loss of habitat will require approval from the Commonwealth Environment Minister.

New criteria are established for approving uses and developments in a conservation area. Uses may include: water management, passive recreation infrastructure (BBQs and picnic facilities), location of river, creek crossings, boardwalks and viewing platforms, sealed roads, paths, parks, and open space.

DELWP may require proponents to prepare an Environment Management Plan for approved uses and developments.

Habitat compensation fees are payable for the removal of native vegetation, habitat or scattered trees in conservation areas

Native vegetation, habit or scattered trees will be deemed to be removed and subject to habitat compensation fees unless they meet the criteria to be “retained” in the Guidance Note.

Native vegetation and scattered trees in the MSA area that occur outside conservation areas may be used as offsets for the removal of native vegetation outside the MSA area where the protection of the native vegetation meets certain requirements.

What next?

The Guidance Note has not been finalised or formally published due to the change in Government but is available here. It is likely to be published by DELWP shortly.

Developers who own land in or within conservation areas should be aware of the Guidance Note as it will guide decisions made by DELWP, Councils and relevant statutory authorities about adjustments to conservation area boundaries and permitted uses or development within conservation areas.