Australia: Reform of the Queensland planning and development system

Clayton Utz Insights

Key Points:

The amendments and reforms have been made as part of the Queensland Government's review of the Queensland planning and development system.

The Queensland Government has recently introduced a number of significant amendments and reforms in its review of the Queensland planning and development system, including:

  • the single State Planning Policy (Single SPP);
  • amendments to the Sustainable Planning Regulation 2009 which, amongst other things, provided additional exemptions for vegetation clearing activities (SPR amendments); and
  • a new version of the State Development Assessment Provisions (SDAP).

The Single SPP

The Single SPP commenced on 2 December 2013, replacing the individual topic specific range of State Planning Policies (SPPs) and the Coastal Protection State Planning Regulatory Provision (Coastal Protection SPRP) previously in effect. The Single SPP seeks to simplify and clarify the State's interests in the planning and development system by consolidating all of the State interests into one document.

At the same time, amendments to the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (SPA) have commenced, which reorder the hierarchy of State planning instruments and give the Single SPP priority over regional plans.

The Single SPP must be applied:

  • by local governments when:
    • making or amending local planning schemes; and
    • undertaking development assessment, where a local planning scheme has not yet been amended to reflect the SPP. In this instance, the interim development assessment provisions apply;
  • by a Minister of the State when designating land for community infrastructure under SPA;
  • by the State when making or amending a regional plan; and
  • to some extent, by developers, when preparing applications for development in areas where the SPP has not yet been appropriately reflected in the relevant local planning scheme. In these instances, the interim development assessment provisions set out in the Single SPP apply.

The Single SPP addresses 16 State interests, grouped under five themes: liveable communities and housing; economic growth; environment and heritage; hazards and safety and infrastructure.

The planning scheme provisions of the Single SPP detail each of the State interests and the underlying principles and implementation strategies that must apply when making or amending a local government planning scheme. The implementation strategies are designed to be outcomes-based, so that local governments determine how these can best be achieved in their particular community.

There are interim development assessment provisions for eight of the 16 State interests: mining and extractive resources; biodiversity; coastal environment; water quality; natural hazards; emissions and hazardous activities; State transport infrastructure and strategic airports and aviation facilities. Development applications must be assessed against these where the Single SPP is not appropriately reflected into the relevant planning scheme.

Notably, the planning scheme provisions and the interim development assessment provisions for the coastal environment State interest do not refer to the impacts caused by potential sea level rise. Previously, the Coastal Protection SPRP provided that the impacts of potential seal level rises were to be taken into account by local governments when determining the location of new urban areas on the coast.

Instead, local governments must now consider foreshore erosion and tidal inundation in preparing local planning schemes and assessing development applications.

The Single SPP is supported by an Interactive Mapping System and a range of non-statutory guidance material. Some of this guidance material has been specifically prepared for the Single SPP, while other guidance material is pre-existing and provides users with best-practice information and examples about how to implement the State interests. The Single SPP expressly states that the use of the guidance material is optional. The guidance material is presently being updated for the finalised Single SPP.

Transitional arrangements

A number of local governments are currently in the process of making new planning schemes under SPA, and the Single SPP will need to be considered by the local government throughout that process.

Until the Single SPP is appropriately reflected in a planning scheme, the interim development assessment provisions under the Single SPP will apply to certain development applications made on or after 2 December 2013.

For development applications made but not yet decided before 2 December 2013, the assessment manager may give weight to the Single SPP, unless the decision stage for the application has commenced.

SPR amendments

On 2 December 2013 amendments to the SP Regulations made a number of key changes to the vegetation clearing framework, including:

  • the size of a lot that will trigger the requirement for a development application to clear native vegetation is now 5 hectares, instead of 2 hectares;
  • new exemptions have been introduced where the clearing is: for a disaster situation; necessary to remediate contaminated land recorded on the environmental management register or contaminated land register, or where the clearing is necessary for land survey works or geotechnical survey works; and
  • the introduction of exemptions for vegetation clearing carried out in accordance with self-assessable clearing codes made under the Vegetation Management Act. Nine self-assessable clearing codes were approved under the Vegetation Management Regulation on 2 December 2013.

The new version of SDAP

On 2 December 2013 a new version of SDAP commenced. It will apply to all development applications lodged with the Single Assessment and Referral Agency (SARA) after this date.

The key differences between the new version and the previous version include:

  • the removal of standard criteria performance outcomes for environmentally relevant activities;
  • the consolidation of the four state vegetation clearing codes into one code, the Queensland Vegetation Management State Code;
  • new assessment criteria for high value agricultural, irrigated high-value agriculture and necessary environmental clearing; and
  • new performance outcomes relating to clearing on land where a compliance or enforcement notice or offset exists.

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin. Persons listed may not be admitted in all states and territories.

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