Government moves to fix biodiversity regime

26 May 2010

The NSW Government has introduced the Threatened Species Conservation Amendment (Biodiversity Certification) Bill 2010 into the NSW Parliament. This follows a long campaign by the Urban Taskforce to fix the existing NSW biodiversity certification regime.

The new legislation, if passed, will help cut through some of the red tape that has been dragging down the development of new housing and employment areas.

In theory, the current law allows any state or local planning scheme to be ticked off by the Environment Minister as long as it maintains or improves biodiversity values. If a plan is approved in this way, specific development applications that satisfy pre-set rules no longer need to be individually assessed for their impact on threatened species.

Decisions would be made more holistically, region-wide, rather than by a narrow project-by-project basis. The rules will be clear to everyone and there will be greater investment certainty.

In practice, the Environment Minister has not been approving planning schemes, because green groups have promised to litigate any Minister who dares to exercise this discretion. In fact, when the NSW Government accredited its plan for the development of the Western Sydney growth centres, the threat of court action forced it to pass special legislation to ensure the approval was not subject to a mischievous legal challenge.

The proposals, now before Parliament, would provide a clear basis for ministerial decision-making and reduce the risk of a challenge based on legal technicalities. This proposal is a win all around – it means more sensible decisions based on the environmental issues of a whole region – but it also means less red tape for individual development applicants.

While we do support the bill it is not perfect and has some pitfalls for land owners who may be considering making concessions in order to secure biodiversity certification. If you have a strong interest in this subject you may want to read our submission to parliamentarians on the bill, available here.  Information generally on the legislation is available here.