Native Vegetation Removal

Planning Scheme Amendment VC138 was introduced to all Victorian Planning Schemes on 12 December 2017, and was prepared by the Minister for Planning.

The Amendment implements reforms from the Victorian Government’s (DELWP) release of the document Protecting Victoria’s Environment – Biodiversity 2037  and a review of native vegetation provisions. VC138 makes changes to:

  • Environmental Significance, Vegetation Protection, Significant Landscape, Erosion Managements and Salinity Management Overlays,
  • Clause 52.16 Native Vegetation Precinct Plans and Clause 52.17 Native Vegetation,
  • Clause 66.02-2 (Native vegetation – referral and notice provisions)

The Amendment also incorporates a new document into all planning schemes; the Guidelines for the removal, destruction or lopping of native vegetation (Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, 2017). Applications required under Clauses 52.16 (Native Vegetation Precinct Plan) and Clause 52.17 (Native Vegetation) must now comply with these new guidelines.

The changes stemming from the Amendment seek to:

  • enable a broader range of native ecological values and for site specific assessment information to be considered in planning and decision making;
  • better account for the environmental value of large scattered trees, endangered vegetation types and sensitive wetlands and coastal areas;
  • make the system fairer, by allowing some site based information to supplement mapped information, and ensuring the information used better reflects the vegetation on the ground; and
  • improve monitoring and reporting on the implementation of the regulations.

Changes to Native Vegetation Management policy at Clause 12.01-2 now set out a clear direction for decision making on proposals involving or leading to removal, destruction or lopping of native vegetation, being to:

  1. Avoid the removal, destruction or lopping of native vegetation.
  2. Minimise impacts from the removal, destruction or lopping of native vegetation that cannot be avoided.
  3. Provide an offset to compensate for the biodiversity impact from the removal, destruction or lopping of native vegetation.

These objectives are also found in the amended Clause 52.16 Native Vegetation Management.

Changes to the Environmental Significance Overlay remove certain exemptions previously applying to Crown land, clarify vegetation removal exemptions for fire protection (fire fighting, planned burning, fuel breaks and fire fighting access), replaces related legislation and industry codes with a written agreement with DELWP, and introduces the term “to the minimum extent necessary” in many exemptions.

Changes to the Vegetation Protection Overlay, Significant Landscape Overlay, Salinity Management Overlay and Erosion Protection Overlay have similar changes to listed exemptions.

The Amendment also seeks to clarify the extent to which land managers and public authorities can remove, destroy or lop native vegetation for emergency works and fire protection activities.

Under Clause 52.16 Native Vegetation Precinct Plan, the changes remove numerous information requirements for a native vegetation precinct plans, permit applications, responsible authorities’ decision guidelines and the offset requirements, now simply referring to the matters set out in the Guidelines.

Any conditions on a planning permit to remove, destroy or lop native vegetation under this clause must specify the offset requirement and timing to secure the offset, to provide clarity and certainty to all parties. The exemptions provided under Clause 52.16 are similar in nature to the changes to the Overlays discussed above, but include new conditional exemptions for Conservation Work and Utility installations. Changes to this clause also remove the risk-based pathways which were part of the assessment previously required, via the Permitted clearing of native vegetation – Biodiversity assessment guidelines (Department of Environment and Primary Industries, September 2013).

Importantly, changes to this clause include transitional provisions which mean that:

  • a planning permit application, or
  • amendment to a planning permit application lodged prior to the amendment VC138 (12 December 2017)

are considered under the provisions of Clause 52.16-7 prior to 12 December 2017.  The transitional provisions also apply to a planning permit lodged 12 months after 12 December 2017 where DELWP has stated in writing that a report about the proposed removal, destruction or lopping of native vegetation has been generated by the DELWP’s native vegetation information systems within 12 months before that date.

Clause 52.17 Native Vegetation has similar changes to Clause 52.16 as noted above. The exemptions providing for the clearance of vegetation for existing buildings now clarify that the 10 metre clearance distance from existing buildings or works is measured from the outermost point of the building, and in relation to the 4 metre clearance exemption around fences clarifies the previous provisions to:

The clearing along both sides of the fence when combined must not exceed 4 metres in width, except where land has already been cleared 4 metres or more along one side of the fence, then up to 1 metre can be cleared along the other side of the fence.

The Amendment also exempts permits for native vegetation removal/destruction/lopping by domestic stock on freehold land.

The Amendment does not remove or modify provisions relating to vegetation management and bushfire risk in Clauses 44.06 (Bushfire Management Overlay) or 52.47 (Planning for bushfire) as the Amendment has sought to prioritise the protection of human life.

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