Offsetting cultural heritage: Lessons from the theory and practice of biodiversity offsets
Holbrook, R and McDonald, J, Offsetting cultural heritage: Lessons from the theory and practice of biodiversity offsets, Environmental and Planning Law Journal, 35, (3) pp. 247-266. ISSN 0813-300X (2018) [Refereed Article]
There is growing interest in the use of offsets to compensate for the loss of cultural heritage values through development, and evidence that cultural heritage offsetting is already occurring in practice. Cultural heritage offsets should be approached with great caution as they risk normalising the destruction of cultural heritage and the commodification of unique cultural heritage values. If cultural heritage offsets are already occurring, however, there is an opportunity to fill the policy and legislative vacuum in which this practice is occurring. The theory and experience of biodiversity offsetting offers important guidance on pitfalls and what features require particular attention to create a highly precautionary framework that provides more accountability, robust standards and enforceable processes. In particular, compliance with the mitigation hierarchy should be both a substantive and procedural requirement. Offset requirements should also be premised on an objective of net enhancement of heritage values. The specific requirements for meeting "net enhancement" should be articulated and elaborated in a way that is capable of measurement and evaluation, and should allow for "no go" sites where enhancement cannot be achieved because of unique or intangible values. As a general rule, like-for-like offsets should be preferred and indirect offsets minimised, but there may be strong arguments in some cases for why a more strategic and landscape-scale approach to offset identification and funding can yield more important heritage outcomes. The identification of strategic benefits requires an accurate and up-to-date information base and the right people and groups engaged in decision-making. In this case of Indigenous cultural heritage, free, prior and informed consent to offset arrangement should be a necessary but not sufficient prerequisite. Finally, cultural heritage offsets arrangements must be rigorously monitored and enforced for effectiveness. This requires ongoing monitoring of offset performance and the incorporation of adaptive management mechanisms to allow new requirements where evidence shows that offsets are falling short of net enhancement outcomes.
offsets, heritage, conservation, environmental law