With the change of State Government here in Queensland following the election on 31st January 2015, the property and planning industries had been waiting to see what the Labor Government would do with the Newman Government’s proposed overhaul of the planning legislation. Up to the time of the election, the proposed reform process had been underway for some time, and had produced a consultation draft Planning and Development Bill 2014 (Qld) (2014 Bill), an Information Paper on that draft 2014 Bill, and various modes of dissemination and feedback.

It had been unclear whether the new government would continue with the 2014 Bill as proposed or with amendments, or would seek to start again or take a different direction to address the issues that had been identified.

The way forward has now been made clearer with the release, on 25 May 2015, of the ‘Better Planning for Queensland – Next Steps in Planning Reform’ Directions Paper (Directions Paper) by the Deputy Premier and Minister for Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, the Honourable Jackie Trad, MP. The Directions Paper proposes a new Planning Bill (proposed bill) that will be released in October 2015. The legislation is expected to commence in the second half of 2016.

The Directions Paper emphasises that the proposed bill would endeavour to provide a clear framework that would reduce the complexity and duplication in the current Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (Qld) (SPA). A key theme underpinning the legislative proposal is consultation with local community, councils and industry in order to provide a more transparent planning framework.

The proposed reforms are part of a package of bills which will include:

  1. The main ‘planning bill’ that sets up the planning and development assessment system;
  2. A court bill that separates out the establishment of the Planning and Environment Court; and
  3. A third bill to ensure harmony with all other acts.

The Directions Paper identifies specific areas of intended reform.

Planning and development outcomes

The Directions Paper outlines the aims of the reform process to provide straight forward and clear direction for communities and also providing certainty to industry about development outcomes. Some of the key points in the Directions Paper on this issue are:

  • Simplification of the current rules under the SPA for assessment decisions and implement more standard requirements for planning schemes to remove the complexity.
  • The current hierarchy for state level planning documents to be reduced from four instruments to two.
  • Simplification of Community Infrastructure Designation to enable the planning minister to assess against a single set of state assessment criteria.
  • Retention of the State Assessment Referral Agency, State Planning Provisions and State Development Assessment Provisions.

Transparent and accountable system for community and industry

The Directions Paper acknowledges the requirement for an open, transparent and accountable planning system so that both the community and industry can have confidence in the planning decisions that are made. Key priorities identified in the Directions Paper on this issue are:

  • Removing Ministerial discretion and simplifying Ministerial powers such as the existing notification requirements.
  • Extending the life of Temporary Local Planning Instruments from 12 months to up to two years.

Improving the operation of the Building and Development Dispute Resolution Committee and increasing penalties for offences.

Structure

The stated aim in the Directions Paper is to produce practical and streamlined legislation, with a number of key priorities identified including:

  • Removal of elements of duplication under SPA and place complexity into regulations.
  • Simplifying the requirements to reduce the risk of technical non-compliance and emphasis towards a more practical processing method by removing the development assessment process to a statutory instrument.
  • Addressing a number of technical regulatory issues such as conflicts, repetition, logical sequencing of provisions and simplified content.
  • Moving the establishment and jurisdiction of the Planning and Environment Court to separate legislation, along with procedural rules and fee regulation.

Practical Support for local governments

The Directions Paper acknowledges that the proposed planning reforms will largely be delivered by local governments, and the concern that the process of implementing the changes will impact upon their resources. The key priorities identified in the Directions Paper which seek to address these concerns include:

  • Engaging with local governments and industry to minimise liability to councils from claim arising from natural hazards such as floods, bushfires, landslides and coastal erosion.
  • Retaining the local government designation process.
  • Extending the statutory timeframe for the creation of a local government infrastructure plan by a further two years.
  • Working with local governments to identify the tools, support, training and guidance to implement the new legislation.

Changes to previous 2014 Bill

Community involvement

This revival of the planning law reform has several instances of difference from the process commenced by the Newman Government. The premise of the Newman Government’s reform was a stated purpose to promote ‘prosperity’. The current government has emphasised the importance of community consultation and providing support to local governments. The Directions Paper states an intent to provide genuine public participation and engagement through statutory guidelines that will introduce new community engagement standards for local government in the planning process.

Costs position

It is proposed to reverse the Newman Government’s controversial amendments to SPA and the proposed position under the 2014 Bill in relation to costs for litigants to the Planning and Environment Court. The Directions Paper states that a priority of the new system, as part of ensuring an open, transparent and accountable planning system, will be for residents and community group submitters to have third party appeal rights on all publicly notified applications without exposure to an award of litigation costs against them.

Where to from here

The Directions Paper is a very high level document which itself only proclaims to ‘chart a strategic course for the next steps in planning reform’. It contains many admirable and aspirational ‘motherhood’ statements as to the intent for the proposed bill to be developed. The key of course will be to see the proposed bill once released later this year. The Directions Paper makes it clear there will be an opportunity for engagement by the development and construction industry, planning and legal professionals and environmental and community groups in the planning reform directions taken in this process. So interested parties should ensure they look for the release of further guidance materials by the government, and any forums to participate and provide input or feed back.