On the 1st of July last year (2014) the Queensland government introduced a new environmental offset framework which delivers a more streamlined approach to how environmental offsets can be delivered. So how does this affect you as a developer? We have some handy hints to help you negotiate your way through and achieve the best outcome.
Here are some great rules for offsets for developers:
Undertake ground truthing. Because much of the mapping that the Government uses to determine vegetation and habitat areas is done on a regional level, scale limitations on the maps can include up to 25 m of error.
- Don’t leave it too late. Policies can change and as a result it generally becomes more difficult and expensive to deal with, not easier and cheaper.
- Be open to the options provided in the policy. There are a number available to you, such as:
- Using the government mapping and calculator to determine offset direct payment. This is the quickest and easiest method and poses few risks as it follows a standard procedure. However, it is also often the most expensive.
- Undertaking ground truthing to better define the onsite values and then using the government calculator to determine your offset direct payment. This process is more drawn out than 3a) above and there is a medium level of risk due to needing to convince the government to accept the redefined onsite values. However, if the mapping is inaccurate your costs will be reduced.
- Undertaking ground truthing and providing a direct offset in another location. Of the three methods this one offers the highest risk and is also the most complex and drawn out approach, but this is also the least expensive. To take this approach would require either ownership over the offset area until it has reached “Offset Status” or remunerating a third party to take ownership of the offset area (i.e. on private land).
A Case Study – The Pine Mountain Road Residential Development:
After a lengthy DA process, this developer needed to provide an offset area of 2.7 ha for clearing 0.9 ha in a High Value Koala Habitat area. It was decided that additional options needed to be investigated:
- Based on the mapping and the government policy, the option for an immediate monetary contribution was calculated as $215,000.
- After further consideration ground truthing was undertaken on site. As this ground truthing found the government mapping to be inaccurate, the costing was able to be adjusted, with the actual monetary Koala Habitat Offset cost now found to be $55,200.
- Further investigation found that the developer could further reduce the Koala Habitat Offset cost by undertaking the work on the development site in lieu of a monetary contribution. This then brought the actual monetary outlay down to $32,000.
In this particular case, the developer opted for option b) instead of option c) due to them not wishing to be encumbered with the responsibility of the onsite works for the offset area over an extended period of time. However, through taking the option to ground truth the original government habitat mapping, this developer made a significant cost saving as well as ensuring the actual area of koala habitat was protected.
How is an Offset Triggered?
When a development is undertaken in relation to a ‘prescribed environmental matter’, but in summary, this is still linked to individual local, state and federal government mapping and associated Acts and policies – i.e:
- for Koala it is triggered when clearing is proposed in, for example, High Value Habitat Areas, as defined on the SPRP/ SPP mapping.
- for Regional Ecosystems it is triggered under the Vegetation Management Codes and varies depending on the bioregion – this mainly relates to endangered RE and of concern RE where the policy states that you have to “maintain current extent” of those REs.
Basically, there is no difference for the trigger. Once an offset is sought, it is done so through the one offset policy instead of 5 different ones administered by different Government departments.
You may also find this link to the Queensland government’s website helpful.