The Queensland Government has released the Draft South East Queensland Koala Conservation Strategy 2019-2024 (‘the strategy’) and associated draft koala habitat mapping for public consultation. The strategy document outlines measures intended to improve the outlook for south-east Queensland’s koala population. Notably, these measures include reforms to environmental planning mechanisms concerning urban development. The draft koala habitat mapping is of importance to land use planning since it forms the basis of koala habitat clearing regulation triggers under the koala regulation reforms described by the strategy.
The draft mapping is a result of koala habitat modelling undertaken by the Queensland Government and is based on remnant and regrowth regional ecosystem mapping prepared by the Queensland Herbarium. Consequently, a notable change between the draft and current koala habitat mapping (Koala SPRP/Koala SPP mapping) is the inclusion of Essential Habitat (for koala) mapping linework into the koala planning provisions framework. The draft mapping offers substantive changes to the level of vegetation clearing constraint for many properties in South East Queensland. In preparing this blog, the draft reforms were considered in the context of the current koala habitat regulatory framework (Schedules 10 and 11 of Planning Regulation 2017 and Koala SPRP/SPP mapping) and proposed changes to regulation of urban development. Our interpretation of selected reforms outlined by the strategy are outlined below:
- Simplification of koala habitat area designations; now featuring Koala Priority Areas (KPA) (rather than Koala SPRP designations – Priority Koala Assessable Development Areas (PKADA), Koala Assessable Development Areas (KADA) and Identified Koala Broad-Hectare Areas (IKBHA)).
- Linework of KPAs is not analogous to the current Koala SPRP mapping.
- The new mapping presents ‘koala habitat areas’ within and outside of KPAs.
- Clearing of mapped koala habitat areas within a KPA will be prohibited and development assessment will be undertaken by Local Government against revised version of Schedules 10 & 11 of the Planning Regulation 2017. Development within a KPA that does not require clearing of koala habitat will trigger development assessment with consideration given to other potential development impacts on koala.
- Outside a KPA, a proposal to develop within a mapped koala habitat area will trigger State Government concurrence agency assessment. Environmental offsets are amongst the mitigation measures considered (developer must first avoid or mitigate the clearing before offsetting deemed an option).
- Regard given to providing buffering koala habitat areas both within and outside KPAs from incompatible land uses. A 50m buffer is referenced in the Draft Strategy. Buildings, structures and works are given as examples of uses that may be deemed incompatible with buffers.
- A map correction process is proposed to allow for ground-truthing of mapping at a property scale. Outside of this, the mapping is to be updated by the State Government annually in consideration of improved vegetation cover and koala population data.
- the proposed koala regulation reforms appear to have the effect of negating the urban area/urban purpose exemption set out by Schedule 21 of the Planning Regulation 2017 where a least concern or of concern remnant regional ecosystem polygon is identified by koala habitat mapping as koala habitat area). Further, the proposed regulation negates urban area/urban purpose exemptions relating to category c (regrowth) vegetation that is mapped by the draft koala habitat mapping.
- Limited exemptions will apply, for mapped koala habitat both inside and outside a KPA, however, there will be no exemption for urban purpose/urban area and no exemption from State assessment under 5ha. Most relevant exemption includes clearing up to 500m2 per lot for a development footprint.
The Queensland Government is currently inviting submissions on draft mapping until 22 December 2019 and submissions on the draft Koala Conservation Strategy are open until 31 January 2020. For more details go to https://environment.des.qld.gov.au/wildlife/animals/living-with/koalas/conservation/draft-seq-koala-strategy