Yarra Ranges Council: Biodiversity Offsets Program Development

Mar 11, 2013 by     Comments Off    Posted under: Innovative Practiceand/or Service Delivery Award

Yarra Ranges Council has developed the Biodiversity Offsets Program to resolve issues with the existing state-wide vegetation offset process.  The Program provides a new service by developing local and strategic vegetation offsets for developments and Council projects requiring a planning permit to remove vegetation.

The Program pools vegetation offsets into larger local areas to achieve quality ecological outcomes whilst streamlining the process.  Offset sites are selected strategically to provide habitat for threatened species and improve landscape connectivity.  The program demonstrates leadership by:

  • streamlining the offsetting process for permit holders,
  • streamlining the offsetting process for council,
  • achieving quality ecological outcomes.


Projects that require the removal of native vegetation generally require a planning permit and the impacts must be offset in accordance local and state policies and legislation.  A vegetation offset usually consists of native revegetation or the protection of existing native vegetation.

Vegetation offsets have been the cause of frustration, delay and unnecessary financial burden for projects requiring a planning permit including Council’s own internal works.  The process has also been inefficient due to a lack of local offset options and the absence of defined processes.

Historically vegetation losses from the Yarra Ranges have been offset anywhere in the state and in some cases hundreds of kilometres away from the impact site.  Offsets have been developed reactively and have lacked a strategic approach to ensure ecological outcomes are met.  The result was that the Yarra Ranges was experiencing a net loss in ecological assets.

The Biodiversity Offsets Program is an alternative to the state BushBroker program that provides strategic and proactive vegetation offsets.  Permit holders can now choose to purchase vegetation offsets through Council.  The Program has significantly increased the efficiency of the offsetting process and the sale of vegetation credits funds the intensive ecological management of offset sites.

Without this innovative program Council’s own infrastructure  projects such as road or drainage upgrades went through a long a complicated planning journey, often with less then ideal outcomes for quality infrastructure design and for the local environment.

Project Objectives

The Biodiversity Offsets Program provides a local solution that enables the development of local vegetation offsets.  The Program streamlines the process through the development of defined procedures and improved customer service.  The four main goals of the program are to;

  • provide local offsets options
  • develop collective offsets that are strategic and proactive
  • establish offsets that achieve quality ecological outcomes
  • provide an efficient community offsetting service

Project Outcomes

The Biodiversity Offset Program provides a new service where permit holders can now purchase their offsets.  Customer service is provided by the Biodiversity Offsets Officer who has the expertise to clearly explain offset obligations, to search for suitable offsets and to liaise directly with planning officers.  The Program commenced trading in September 2012 and the early stages of trading have already demonstrated that the Program successfully reduces timeframes for permit holders and Council.

A software module has been developed to capture and record the trade of vegetation credits and to link credits to the associated planning permit.  The software allows the capture of important data relating to vegetation loss and gains which informs future vegetation management.

The Program demonstrates strong governance and is operated under internal guidelines that have been developed to ensure that the processes are clearly defined.  Extensive research into policy, legislation and powers of local government has guided the development of the guidelines.

The Program team have been active contributors to the Native Vegetation Working Group which includes representatives from local governments, MAV and DSE.  Through this working group the Program has been a groundbreaking example of how a council offset program can operate.  The Program team has significantly contributed to the development of new state guidelines.

Four local offset sites have been successfully developed and consist of 70 hectares of remnant vegetation and will involve the revegetation of over 13,000 indigenous plants over the next 12 months.  Detailed ecological assessments and management plans have been developed for each site.  Sites are now formally protected using Trust for Nature Conservation Covenants and offset credits are now officially banked on Victoria’s Native Vegetation Credit Register.

Innovative and Distinguishing Features

Innovative and distinguishing features of the Program include:

  • A customer service program that facilitates the trade of vegetation credits. .
  • An offsetting model that can be applied to local governments state-wide.
  • A business plan that enables the program to recover all costs through the sale of vegetation credits.
  • A new software module that enables vegetation loss and offsets to be efficiently tracked, monitored and processed.
  • A new clearly defined guideline which governs that program and ensures that it is robust and operates transparently.
  • The ability to pool smaller offsets into larger local areas to achieve better environmental outcomes.
  • The ability to meet Council’s own offset requirements locally

 Local community

  • Early stages of trading have already demonstrated that the Program significantly reduces timeframes for permit holders and Council.
  • The Program ensures that local ecological impacts are offset with local ecological benefits.  It provides a mechanism to improve the ecological assets within the Yarra Ranges.
  • A cost recovery program that does not draw funds from other Council programs.


Some of the significant barriers encountered during the programs development are summarised as:

  • The Program has been developed on a cost recovery model however during the development phase the Program faced significant resource and funding challenges.  The innovation required Council to risk upfront costs and resources in the first 2 years of development.
  • Council now plays the role of referral authority setting offset requirements and is also an offset credit provider.  The Program has had to develop robust processes and systems to clearly demonstrate transparency and probity.
  • Understanding the legal obligations of operating the Program and entering into legal agreements has required extensive research and understanding of various Acts.  External legal advice and support from Council’s governance department has been vital for the success of the program.
  • The new approach to offsetting and the development of the Program has presented new challenges to supporting organisations.  The success of the Program has resulted from the strong working relationships developed and the support provided. In particular, Trust for Nature has played a key role in ensuring the Program’s success.


The Program is based on a cost recovery model.  The sale of vegetation credits to permit holders funds the operation of the Program, the management of offset sites and a full time Biodiversity Offsets Officer. Credit prices have been calculated by determining the actual cost incurred by council to implement the offsets.  The four offset sites have generated $3.5 million worth of vegetation credits.


The Yarra Ranges Council, like many other councils indentified that the state requirements for vegetation offsets was presenting significant process and financial burden on permit holders.  The Yarra Ranges Council was in a position where they could take the initiative to investigate and develop an innovative solution that could benefit the community, the environment and Council itself.  The successful development of the technical aspects of the Program is credited to the team. However, the embracement of the new initiative by senior management, councillors and other departments has been vital to the successful implementation of this new initiative.

While the program has been established to streamline access to native vegetation offsets for all planning permit applicants there has been a large number of municipal engineering projects that have been able to complete the planning permit journey in an effective and efficient manner by using the Biodiversity Offset Program.

The Yarra Ranges has presented the early stages of the Program development at a number of events including forums organised by the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia (IPWEA) and Council Arboriculture Victoria (CAV).  The Yarra Ranges has also been presented the Program at the Strategic Planning Approaches to Improve Biodiversity Conservation Conference, Sydney in November 2012.

The Yarra Ranges presents the Biodiversity Offsets Program with an enormous amount of pride and believes that the Program will contribute the development of more efficient offset programs state-wide.  The Yarra Ranges welcomes the opportunity to share lessons learnt from this Program and strongly encourages the sharing of knowledge and experiences between councils.

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