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This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

Vegetation Clearing (Vic)


In Victoria, the clearing of native vegetation is governed by regulations made under the Planning and Environment Act 1987. The regulations are primarily implemented through local council planning schemes. The Guidelines for the removal, destruction or lopping of native vegetation are incorporated into all planning schemes in Victoria. They outline how native vegetation removal is assessed. If proposed clearing will have a significant impact on matters of national environmental significance, approval may be needed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Definitions

In planning schemes, native vegetation is defined as “plants that are indigenous to Victoria, including trees, shrubs, herbs and grasses”. The guidelines classify native vegetation as a “patch” or a ”scattered tree”. A patch is:

  • an area of vegetation where at least 25 per cent of the total perennial understorey plant cover is native;
  • any area with 3 or more native canopy trees which form a continuous canopy;
  • any wetland included in Department of Environment Land, Water and Planning mapping.

A scattered tree is a native canopy tree that does not form part of a patch.

Victoria’s planning system

The State Planning Policy Framework (SPPF) states planning must help the protection and conservation of the state’s biodiversity. Specifically it states there must be no net loss of biodiversity from the removal, destruction or lopping of native vegetation.

The SPPF mandates that that decisions about native vegetation clearing must apply a 3-step approach:

  1. Avoid removing, destroying or lopping vegetation;
  2. Minimise impacts from removing, destroying or lopping vegetation that cannot be avoided;
  3. Provide an offset to compensate for the impact on biodiversity as a result of removing, destroying or lopping vegetation.

Avoiding damage

An application to remove native vegetation must show there are no other options to achieve the objectives of the proposed land use but to remove the vegetation.

Minimising impacts

Minimising the impacts of native vegetation clearing can include designing the land use or development to reduce the amount of native vegetation that needs to be removed, restricting the removal of vegetation to that which has the least biodiversity or other values, or minimising impacts on surrounding native vegetation.

Offsetting impacts

An offset is needed to compensate for the loss of biodiversity value when native vegetation is removed. A permit application must include an offset strategy. A species offset is required when the removal of the vegetation has a significant impact on habitat for a rare or threatened species. This offset must compensate for the loss of that habitat. A general offset is required otherwise. All offsets can require that at least 1 large tree be protected for every large tree removed.

Permits

A planning permit to remove, destroy or lop native vegetation (including dead vegetation)  is required where there is a Native Vegetation Precinct Plan (NVPP) in place. The permit expires if the native vegetation clearing does not begin within 2 years of the permit date, or the clearing is not completed within 10 years of the permit date. Permits applications are assessed as basic, intermediate or detailed.

Decision guidelines

When deciding on a permit application, the responsible authority must consider the extent and character of the native vegetation and the likelihood of its destruction; and whether native vegetation is to be or can be protected, planted or allowed to regenerate.

It must also consider factors such as how the vegetation protects land and water, how the vegetation contributes to the character of an area, and whether the vegetation is protected under Aboriginal heritage laws.

Exemptions

There is a range of permit exemptions. These apply to:

  • conservation work;
  • Crown land;
  • emergency works;
  • mineral and gas exploration and extraction;
  • fire protection;
  • pest animal burrows;
  • cropping and grazing;
  • railway maintenance;
  • road safety;
  • surveying;
  • Traditional owners;
  • installation of utilities.

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