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Vegetation in non-rural areas

Chapter 2 (Vegetation in Non-Rural Areas), of the State Environmental Planning Policy (Biodiversity and Conservation) 2021 sets the rules for the clearing of vegetation in NSW on land zoned for urban and environmental purposes that is not linked to a development application.

The aims of this policy are:

  1. to protect the biodiversity values of trees and other vegetation in non-rural areas of the State, and
  2. to preserve the amenity of non-rural areas of the State through the preservation of trees and other vegetation.

The policy works with the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and the Local Land Services Act 2013 to provide the Land Management and Biodiversity Conservation (LMBC) framework across NSW. For more information go to Local Land Services.

The SEPP ensures that if the clearing of native vegetation on land zoned for urban or environmental purposes exceeds entry thresholds, the Biodiversity Offset Scheme will apply. The SEPP also allows councils to manage vegetation clearing in their local area through a permit system and allows certain routine clearing activities on land used for primary production.

Where the policy applies

Chapter 2 applies to vegetation in the following areas.

a. Land within all zones in the following LGAs within Greater Sydney and Newcastle, being:

  • Bayside
  • City of Blacktown
  • Burwood
  • Camden
  • City of Campbelltown
  • Canterbury-Bankstown
  • Canada Bay
  • Cumberland
  • City of Fairfield
  • City of Hawkesbury
  • Hornsby
  • Hunter’s Hill
  • Georges River
  • Inner West
  • Ku-ring-gai
  • Lane Cove
  • City of Liverpool
  • Mosman
  • Newcastle
  • North Sydney
  • Northern Beaches
  • City of Parramatta
  • City of Penrith
  • City of Randwick
  • City of Ryde
  • Strathfield
  • Sutherland Shire
  • City of Sydney
  • The Hills Shire
  • Waverley
  • City of Willoughby
  • Woollahra

b. Outside of the above LGAs, any land within the following zones:

  • RU5 Village
  • R1 General Residential
  • R2 Low Density Residential
  • R3 Medium Density Residential
  • R4 High Density Residential
  • R5 Large Lot Residential
  • IN1 General Industrial
  • IN2 Light Industrial
  • IN3 Heavy Industrial
  • IN4 Working Waterfront
  • SP1 Special Activities
  • SP2 Infrastructure
  • SP3 Tourist
  • B1 Neighbourhood Centre
  • B2 Local Centre
  • B3 Commercial Core
  • B4 Mixed Use
  • B5 Business Development
  • B6 Enterprise Corridor
  • B7 Business Park
  • B8 Metropolitan Centre
  • RE1 Public Recreation
  • RE2 Private Recreation
  • E2 Environmental Conservation
  • E3 Environmental Management
  • E4 Environmental Living
  • W3 Working Waterways

Rules for clearing under the SEPP

The SEPP specifies the rules for different types of clearing in non-rural areas:

  • Part 2.2 contains general rules for clearing activities
  • Part 2.3 allows Councils to require permits to clear certain types of vegetation and provides rules around those permits
  • Part 2.4 provides rules for when approval is required from the Native Vegetation Panel, and provides rules around those approvals
  • Part 2.5 contains a permanent framework for land clearing associated with routine agricultural activities.
General rules for clearing vegetation in non-rural areas (Part 2.2)

Part 2.2 outlines the different types of clearing activities that require a permit, those which do not require a permit and those which are permitted without development consent.

Any clearing above the biodiversity offsets scheme threshold requires an approval from the Native Vegetation Panel after Part 2.4.

Council permits for clearing of vegetation in non-rural areas (Part 2.3)

Part 2.3 outlines the function of a council permit system in regulating vegetation clearing in non-rural areas. Councils can specify vegetation needing a permit to clear by declaring it in their development control plan as vegetation to which Part 2.3 of the SEPP applies. The development control plan may identify the vegetation in any manner including by listing the species, size or location of vegetation, or the presence of vegetation in an ecological community or in the habitat of a threatened species.

When assessing a request for a clearing permit, councils may ask for information about the proposed clearing to allow proper consideration of the application. If a permit application is refused, the applicant has the right to appeal the refusal in the Land and Environment Court.

Approval of Native Vegetation Panel for clearing native vegetation in non-rural areas (Part 2.4)

The Native Vegetation Panel Clearing must approve any clearing that exceeds the Biodiversity Offset Scheme threshold. The proposed clearing must be assessed using Biodiversity Assessment Method. When assessing an application, the panel must consider relevant provisions in development control plans and environmental planning instruments, as well as environmental, social and economic impacts.

The Biodiversity Offset Scheme is triggered by activities that meet certain thresholds for significant impacts on biodiversity. The thresholds for the clearing of vegetation are:

  • 0.25 ha on land with a minimum lot size less than 1 ha
  • 0.50 ha on land with a minimum lot size between 1 ha and 40 ha
  • 1 ha on land with a minimum lot size between 40 ha and 100 ha
  • 2 ha on land with a minimum lot size over 1,000 ha.

View more information: Biodiversity Offset Scheme.

Clearing of native vegetation on primary production lands in Zones (R5, C2, C3, C4 that does not require approval (Part 2.5)

Part 2.5 allows landholders on land used for primary production in specified zones to go about certain daily activities without needing approval.

Part 2.5 applies to land in local government areas marked as ‘allowable clearing area’ on the allowable clearing maps. To use the provisions, the land must be on land zoned C2, C3, C4 or R5 and must be land used for primary production within the meaning of section 10AA of the Land Tax Management Act 1956.

The allowable activities on land zoned C3, C4 and R5 include:

  • constructing or maintaining:
    • permanent boundary fences
    • farm access tracks
    • private power lines
    • planted native vegetation
    • environmental protection works
  • maintaining:
    • electricity transmission infrastructure
    • water supply and gas supply infrastructure
    • telecommunications infrastructure
    • permanent internal fences.

Allowable activities permitted on C2 zoned land, include:

  • constructing and maintaining a permanent boundary fence
  • maintaining an existing permanent internal fence
  • maintaining an existing farm access track
  • maintaining existing:
    • electricity transmission infrastructure (including private power lines)
    • water and gas supply infrastructure
    • telecommunications infrastructure.

Before using the allowable clearing provisions to clear native vegetation on R5, C2, C3 or C4 zoned land, the landholder must meet certain conditions. These are included in section 2.5 of the SEPP and summarised in the ‘Frequently asked questions: General information’ document below.

Some higher-risk routine land management activities may be appropriate in the C3, C4 and R5 zones. We are reviewing this and working to expand the range of allowable activities available under the SEPP.

The government intends to include the following allowable activities once guidelines have been developed to support these activities being carried out in a way that minimises risk to the environment:

  • Sustainable grazing.
  • Clearing to remove imminent risk to life or property.
  • Removing invasive native species.
  • Native vegetation thinning.

Recent amendments to the policy

On 18 December 2021, a transitional provision of the policy that allowed some land clearing without approval to ensure that agricultural land users could continue to operate effectively was replaced with a permanent framework for land clearing associated with routine agricultural activities (Part 2.5 of the current policy).

On 1 March 2022, 45 planning policies were consolidated into 11 theme-based policies, to make the planning system simpler. The Vegetation in Non-Rural Areas SEPP 2017 became Chapter 2 (Vegetation in non-rural areas) of the Biodiversity and Conservation SEPP 2021. Chapter 2 replicated the 2017 policy.

On 3 October 2022, the SEPP was amended to ensure that the requirements for vegetation clearing permits in council DCPs align with Part 2.3 of the SEPP.

Removal of transitional cl.27 and replacement with Part 2.5

When the Vegetation SEPP 2017 was introduced, it contained a transitional provision (Clause 27). Clause 27 continued arrangements that existed under the Native Vegetation Act 2003 prior to the LMBC reforms commencing in 2017.

Clause 27 allowed some land clearing without approval to ensure that agricultural land users could continue to operate effectively.

The clause applied where a council had previously selected to continue this arrangement via its Local Environmental Plan (LEP) on land zoned:

  • C2 Environmental Conservation
  • C3 Environmental Management
  • C4 Environmental Living
  • R5 Large Lot Residential.

On 18 December 2021 clause 27 was repealed and replaced with a permanent framework for land clearing associated with routine agricultural activities. This enables landholders to go about their daily activities without the need for approval. The updated framework includes 'allowable activities' that can be carried out on land being used for agriculture and zoned C2, C3, C4 and R5. The allowable activities will be available to landholders in Local Government Areas where the transitional clause 27 applied excluding Local Government Areas in Greater Sydney (PDF, 2.2 MB). Newcastle Local Government Area continues to be excluded but land west of the M1 Motorway in the Central Coast Local Government Area is included (clause 27 did not apply here). See the below link to the Allowable Clearing Map showing where the new provisions apply.

The temporary arrangements under the previous Clause 27 no longer apply.

Amendment expanding the vegetation to which Part 2.3 applies

Part 2.3 of the SEPP allows councils to specify that a permit is required to clear certain vegetation. To do this, councils must declare the vegetation in their development control plan to be vegetation to which the SEPP applies.

When the Vegetation SEPP 2017 was introduced, it included a savings provision so that the part also applied to any vegetation that was declared in a development control plan as requiring a permit or consent to clear. This savings provision was removed from the policy in December 2021, meaning that the part no longer applied to vegetation under some development control plans.

On 3 October 2022, the SEPP was amended so that Part 2.3 applies to vegetation declared in a development control plan to require a permit to clear for the purposes of:

  • Part 2.3 of the Biodiversity and Conservation SEPP
  • Part 3 of the former State Environmental Planning Policy (Vegetation in Non-Rural Areas) 2017 (Vegetation SEPP)
  • the former clause 5.9 of the relevant local environmental plan.