September 7, 2012
Introduced on 13 September 2012, the Sustainable Planning and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 (‘the Bill’) aims to make planning and development more effective and responsive across the state. There are a number of policy objectives for the new legislation, including:
- giving the Planning and Environment Court general discretion in relation to costs;
- introducing an alternative dispute resolution process in the Planning and Environment Court for minor disputes;
- providing some flexibility in the requirements for supporting information accompanying a development application;
- reducing regulatory ‘red tape’ for development applications involving a state resource;
- improving the coordination and responsiveness of state government in dealing with particular development applications (proposing development within or partially within state jurisdiction);
- ensuring that certain provisions within the Queensland Planning Provisions also apply to local government planning schemes made under the repealed Integrated Planning Act 1997; and
- removing ineffective master planning and structure planning arrangements.
This summary of the key amendments will focus primarily on the amendments to the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (‘the Act’), however it is important to note that there are also amendments to the Coastal Protection and Management Act 1995, the Fisheries Act 1994, the Transport Infrastructure Act 1994, and the Water Act 2000.
The amendments are yet to pass through Parliament, so they are not current in force; however it is likely we will see this new legislation assented to within the year.
The Planning and Environment Court
In a practical sense, the most important amendments concern how future matters will be handled by the Planning and Environment Court.
Firstly, there are provisions within the Bill which aim to improve the way the Planning and Environment Court handles costs. Specifically, these provisions provide that the costs of a proceeding will now be ordered at the discretion of the Court. This is a move away from the current position, that each party to a proceeding in the court must bear their own costs. The Bill still allows the Court to order that each party bear their own costs, however this kind of order requires participation in an alternative dispute resolution (‘ADR’) process. The Bill also includes provisions that outline what the Court may include in their calculation of costs.
A related amendment is aimed at increasing the efficiency of the Planning and Environment Court by providing for greater involvement in ADR processes prior to trial. The Bill allows the Chief Judge to direct the ADR Registrar to exercise a power of the court generally and for the Court to direct the ADR Registrar to hear and decide particular matters of a minor nature. This decreases the chances of the burden of an expensive trial and the risk of adverse costs orders.
In a broader sense, the Bill seeks to establish a single state assessment and referral agency for particular development applications in an effort to simplify the approvals process, while still preserve the existing appeal rights for submitters. The amendments now place the chief executive in the position of assessment manager or referral agency by removing references to circumstances where the prescribed concurrence agency is some other state body.
State Resource Allocation
Other important amendments involve steps to decouple the resource allocation or entitlement process from the development assessment process. The requirement to provide certain evidence with an application for development involving a state resource is to be removed.
In terms of the transition to the amended legislation, the Bill introduces new sections which provide that within three years local governments must amend, or implement, a SPA planning scheme to incorporate the structure plan for each declared master plan area.
Master Plans and Structure Planning
The Bill also proposes the removal of ‘Chapter 4 (Planning Partnerships)’ from the Act. The master plan and structure planning arrangements established in this chapter were found to be ineffective, and the Bill will introduce other mechanisms which will better provide for planning partnership arrangements.
The amendments proposed in the Bill will not revolutionise the planning landscape in Queensland, however they go a long way in streamlining the development application process. The introduction of specific sections dealing with the ADR Registrar will help reduce costs and increase development by encouraging mediation between parties.
The new Costs arrangements will also help alleviate the potential burden on parties by giving the Court a general discretion in relation to Costs orders.