The continuing desire for planning reform has resulted in some competition between the State’s major political parties.  On 25 May 2015, we saw the Labor government produce a directions paper called ‘Better Planning for Queensland’.

In reply, on 4 June 2015, the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Planning, Small Business, Employment and Trade, the Hon. Tim Nicholls, introduced private member bills for further planning reform into the Queensland Parliament.  The bills are:

  • Planning and Development (Planning for Prosperity) Bill 2015;
  • Planning and Development (Planning Court) Bill 2015; and
  • Planning and Development (Planning for Prosperity – Consequential Amendments) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2015.

The explanatory notes for the private member bills suggest that the proposed reform is:

  • a continuation of extensive industry consultation which commenced in about 2012; and
  • substantially the same as the draft legislation proposed by the former LNP government in 2014, which lapsed when the last State election was announced.

In contrast to the swift introduction of the private member bills, the Labor government’s directions paper states that a new planning legislation would be introduced to the Queensland Parliament by October 2015.

Some highlights of the planning reform proposed by the private member bills, compared with the current Sustainable Planning Act 2009, include:

  • The purpose of the proposed planning legislation is to facilitate Queensland’s prosperity, including through ecologically sustainable development that balances economic growth, environmental protection and community wellbeing.
  • Only two types of State planning instruments are proposed, being State planning policies and regional plans.  The proposed local planning instruments are planning schemes, temporary local planning instruments and planning scheme policies.
  • Categories of development will change to prohibited development, assessable development (for which a development permit is required) and accepted development (for which a development permit is not required).
  • Categories of development assessment will change from code to standard assessment and from impact to merit assessment.
  • Public notification is decoupled from the assessment type and will be based on factors such as the scale, type and location of proposed development and its potential impact on the area in which it will be located.  Local government planning schemes will remain the primary instrument for establishing levels of assessment for proposed development, however, State regulations will prevail in the event of any inconsistency.
  • Where a development is subject to public notification, third party (submitter) appeal rights will be retained.
  • The development assessment system (currently known as IDAS), including the decision criteria and decision rules for development applications, will be recorded in subordinate legislation, such as a regulation, rather than being contained in the proposed Act. However, it is proposed that the development assessment system will be generally consistent with the current planning and development assessment framework.
  • Civil penalties for development offences have been increased to a level that is consistent with offences under environmental and resources legislation, and executive officer liability will remain for some development offences.
  • Expanded ministerial powers, for example in dealing with development applications that impact on a State interest, are proposed.
  • The existing infrastructure charging regime will continue largely unchanged.
  • The Planning and Environment Court will continue under its own Act.
  • The Planning and Environment Court will retain discretion to make a costs order, and will have expanded powers to:
    • order costs against an entity that has an interest in a proceeding, but is not a party to it; and
    • require parties to provide security for costs.
  • However, if a Planning and Environment Court proceeding is resolved at or shortly after an ADR process, or as a result of a hearing by the ADR Registrar, each party must bear their own costs.

The private member bills differ from the previous planning reform package proposed by the former LNP government by removing provisions that allowed for development applications to be accepted by an assessment manager without the land owner’s consent and the removal of a clause which described when a fine was payable to a local government.

It is pleasing to see that the competing reform proposals of the private member bills and the Labor government’s ‘Better Planning for Queensland’ directions paper contain common reform proposals that are informed by the extensive industry consultation that has occurred since 2012.  However, we expect there to be continued interest and ongoing debate regarding future planning reform. 

Whilst community engagement and Court costs remain key differences of opinion between the private member bills and the policy statements recently made by the Labor government, we expect that further matters for robust debate will arise when full details of the Labor government’s planning reform position are known.

The private member bills have been referred to the Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources Committee, and Mr. Nicholls has invited continued industry and community consultation through the committee process.  In his speech introducing the bills to the parliament he noted ‘I should also say that the LNP is open to further amendments to the bill should they be required and desired after consultation and full operation of the committee system.’

Whether or not the private member bills will be passed at all, or in their current form or with alterations, is ultimately a question for the parliament.  In any event we expect that industry welcomes the continuing commitment to planning reform in Queensland, and looks forward to future certainty.