Since COVID-19 became a public health emergency in late January 2020, the continued growth of the pandemic and the associated uncertainty that it generates has impacted upon standard practices and procedures in the planning, environment and local government sectors, much like other areas of life.

In response to the economic impacts and social distancing requirements associated with COVID-19 the Public Health and Other Legislation (Public Health Emergency) Amendment Act 2020 (QLD COVID-19 Act) was urgently passed by the Queensland Parliament without amendment on 18 March 2020.

Similarly, in NSW the COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 (NSW COVID-19 Act) commenced on 25 March 2020.

What you need to know

Applicable event

Amendments to the Planning Act 2016 (Qld) (PA) and the Economic Development Act 2012 (Qld) (EDA), allow the Minister to declare an 'applicable event' in which a raft of temporary measures will be allowed.

The Minister has subsequently declared COVID-19 to be an applicable event that has effect from 20 March 2020 until 20 June 2020.

During this period further amendments to the PA and the EDA, which have all now taken effect, will result in the following changes.

Temporary use licences

Any person may now apply for a temporary use licence which will have effect for the duration of the applicable event. Temporary use licences are designed to allow increased flexibility for existing land uses and allow an applicant to:

  • change the conditions of an existing development approval;
  • provide that the use of a premises is not required to comply with requirements that would constrain its operation; or
  • increase that intensity or scale of an existing use by, among other things, including a new use.

Temporary use licences will be essential to ensuring important services can effectively operate to meet the community's needs during the applicable event.

Extending and suspending statutory periods

Where the Minister is satisfied that, because of the applicable event, it is necessary to do so, the Minister may allow for increased flexibility by issuing notices to either extend or suspend the period for the doing of a thing.

This power will be essential to appropriately managing development assessment timeframes during the applicable event so that developers and assessment managers avoid any prejudice.

Despite the seriousness of the ongoing public health emergency the Minister is yet to provide any such notices as at the date of this article.

Relaxation of hours of operation

The Minister may now, by notice published on the Department's website

declare that provisions of the PA, requirements of a designation or a condition of a development approval that would otherwise restrict the movement of goods does not apply during the applicable event.

The intent of this amendment is to immediately assist with the management of supply chains and to allow business such as supermarkets to operate 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

Development in NSW

The NSW COVID-19 Act authorises the NSW Planning Minister, after consultation with the Minister for Health, to make orders enabling certain developments to occur without any development consent or compliance with the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (NSW).

It also removes requirements to have a physical copy of relevant environmental assessment documents on public exhibition for inspection so long as exhibition copies are made available electronically.

Local government elections

The QLD COVID-19 Act included further emergency amendments to the following acts:

  • Electoral Act 1992 (Qld);
  • Local Government Act 2009 (Qld);
  • Local Government Electoral Act 2011 (Qld); and
  • City of Brisbane Act 2010 (Qld).

These amendments were designed to maximise public health and safety and facilitate possible suspension or termination of the 2020 quadrennial local government elections.

Similarly, the NSW COVID-19 Act enables the Local Government Minister to postpone local government elections in NSW, which are currently scheduled to be held in September 2020. It is anticipated that these elections will be postponed until September 2021.

With respect to local council meetings, the obligations under the Local Government Act 1993 (NSW) will be satisfied if:

  • Council meetings are held remotely, in whole or in part using audio visual technology; and
  • If practicable, members of the public can attend council meetings via Webex, or if not practicable the members of the public are informed of what occurred at the meeting through an appropriate channel approved by the Minister.

Other practical implications

Court appearances

Queensland Courts, like the rest of society, have had to adapt to the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the exception of jury trials, all proceedings in Queensland are to continue.

To achieve this while protecting public health and safety, the Planning and Environment Court has notified practitioners and parties that in order to avoid significant congregations of people in the court room all hearings of directions hearings, reviews, mentions, applications, pre-callover reviews and callovers listed prior to 10am in Brisbane are to be conducted by telephone.

While the Planning and Environment Court is continuing to provide practitioners with the opportunity to participate in without prejudice meetings charged by the ADR Registrar, all such conferences in Brisbane are to take place via teleconference or video conference. If for any reason the parties must appear in person they will be required to observe strict social distancing requirements.

Telephone appearances are to be requested by sending an email to P&E List Manager.

Filing and signing

While the Planning and Environment Court's Brisbane registry is still open at the date of this article, those wishing to provide draft orders to the Planning and Environment Court should forward them by email to the relevant Judge's Associate by 4.00pm the day before appearing.

At this stage electronic filing has not been permitted for other Court documents.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.