The State Government is calling for submissions from local governments and other interested parties on the most significant state land review in Queensland in over 100 years. Submissions are due by 31 August 2014.
Planning and Environment lawyer, Jaclyn Rolfe, highlights some of the issues and opportunities for councils in this next phase of policy and legislative reform.
Queensland councils have a unique opportunity to contribute to landmark reforms relating to the management and administration of more than 126 million hectares of state land. A discussion paper, Queensland state land – strengthening our economic future, has been released with the goal of simplifying the complex, inconsistent and outdated land tenure regime.
A 2012 parliamentary inquiry into Government land tenure across Queensland focused on the viability of the state’s pastoral and tourism industries that rely on leasing and using state land. Public submissions also highlighted that the state land law system hindered local governments in their roles as managers of state land.
The discussion paper explores various possible reforms that may provide local governments with greater autonomy in their role as managers of state land, a few of which are explored below.
Community purpose reserves
Approximately 19,620 reserves, covering about 1.6 million hectares throughout Queensland, are set aside for community purposes under the Land Act 1994 (Land Act). These reserves include cemeteries, gardens, jetties, public boat ramps, parks, public halls, public amenities, showgrounds and sporting facilities.
A majority of the reserves - about 18,660, covering approximately 704,740 hectares - are held by local governments, as trustees, appointed by the Queensland Government.
There are several restrictions on councils in their role as trustee, including the need for Ministerial approval to issue a trustee lease over all or part of a reserve. The discussion paper proposes to increase autonomy for local governments to authorise the use of community purpose reserves. The State Government considers that its ongoing role in authorising the use of these reserves creates unnecessary duplication, when councils oversee their day-to-day management.
Greater local government autonomy and less duplication could provide an opportunity for more productive outcomes for local governments and the community. On the other hand, it could create a financial, administrative and resource burden on local governments, particularly the smaller ones. How could these proposed changes impact your council?
Councils can charge and retain rent when they provide a permit for the use or lease of reserved land. However, this is restricted to ‘cost-recovery fees’ only and rent received must be spent on maintaining or enhancing the subject reserve.
These restrictions can prevent a council from receiving a reasonable market rate from the use of a reserve, limiting economic development opportunities and the amount of revenue that can be collected and reinvested in the local community. If the restriction is lifted, then regard must be given to users of the reserve, with different rules potentially applicable to commercial and community group users.
Local governments have a majority of control over local roads (through the Local Government Act 2009 and local laws). However, the Queensland Government continues to handle some aspects of local road use and closure. The State Government’s ongoing role in authorising the use of these roads under the Land Act seems to be another area of unnecessary duplication. For example, a local road may only be permanently closed by application to the State Government.
It is common for a permanent road closure application to form part of a larger development proposal. Is this an opportunity to roll the permanent road closure application process into the development application process? If so, should the road closure application be decided by council or referred to the State Government?
Acquisition of land
Currently, land may be acquired by councils or other constructing authorities under a variety of pieces of legislation, including the Acquisition of Land Act 1967, Land Act and State Development and Public Works Organisation Act 1971.
The Government’s discussion paper proposes the streamlining of the acquisition of land legislative framework and asks for submissions on how it should be done.
With each Act having a different objective and administered by a different State Government department, it is difficult to see how this could work, although the idea is worthy of consideration.
There are several other important matters for consideration in this review, with the discussion paper providing a unique opportunity for local government to have direct input into reform of the state land regime.
Submissions are due by 31 August 2014. Interested persons may get involved in the discussion via this link: https://www.getinvolved.qld.gov.au/gi/consultation/2050/view.html.
Councils intending to make a submission to the review should seek the assistance and advice of planning, environment and property lawyers to ensure the unique needs of their particular council and community are represented.