As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve across Australia and the world, Bennett + Bennett encourages our valued clients to keep abreast of the situation. It’s essential we support one another and show compassion to others during these unprecedented times; as a community we can work together to pull through this. In response to recent events, both the Sunshine Coast Regional Council and the Queensland State Government are proceeding with their commitments to assist our community and local economy. These are outlined below for your convenience.

State Government

Urgent amendments to the planning legislation are in effect to address concerns raised by a range of stakeholders, including local government and industry, in response to the COVID-19. Queensland’s planning legislation has been amended to:

  • Allow the Minister to decide when an essential business or use, for example supermarkets, should be able to operate and restock 24 hours per day, seven days a week, during an event such as the COVID-19 public health emergency, or other future disasters.
  • Provide the opportunity for any person to seek relief from existing development application conditions or other operating constraints through a simple application to the state for a temporary use licence made to the state.
  • Introduce flexibility for the Minister to suspend or extend any of the statutory timeframes across the planning framework.

The new provisions provide for business continuity and supply by removing planning constraints, which could be limiting the operation and delivery of essential services. The amendments also ensure that development assessment, plan-making, and other statutory timeframes under the Planning Act 2016 and Economic Development Act 2012 can be managed, and that local and state government can continue to make decisions and ensure statutory timeframes can be met even if workforces are affected or reduced.

These provisions are now a permanent part of our planning framework, providing flexibility to respond to not only COVID-19, but also to floods, bushfires, cyclones and other disasters. However, the effect of these powers is temporary and only applies for the duration of the declared event.

These provisions commence when the Minister for Planning declares that there is an event, such as a public health emergency or a natural disaster, that will affect state interests.

Local Government – Sunshine Coast Regional Council

Sunshine Coast Mayor, Mark Jamieson has released a statement via his Facebook page, outlining 13 business support commitments for the Sunshine Coast. One is of significance to the development industry, with the Mayor confirming that infrastructure charges can be deferred up to three years with no interest payable in the first 12 months. This could assist by minimizing the cost burden at the point of plan sealing, and potentially allow infrastructure charges payments to be made once a project is fully delivered and settlements have been achieved.

The 13 commitments promised by the Mayor are as follows:

  • Dedicated staff to assess temporary use permits.
  • Additional staff focused on building and plumbing approvals to ensure continuity of work/approvals.
  • Representations made to the State Government on kitchens/liquor licensing and Federal Government on stimulus to support sole suppliers.
  • Relaxation of curfews in relation to deliveries of essential items to supermarkets/pharmacies.
  • Footpath/outdoor dining and trading permit fees (reimbursement or waiver from 1 March to 31 July).
  • Food licensing fees (reimbursement or waiver from 1 March to 31 August).
  • Community event and major event permit fees (reimbursement/refunds from 1 March to 30 June or ability to postpone for 12 months and bond refunded until new date set).
  • Commercial low-use/commercial high use permits (reimbursement or waiver from 1 March to 31 July).
  • Filming application fees (reimbursement or waiver from 1 March to 30 June).
  • Venue hire (bookings) – refunds and waiver of normal cancellation fees at all Council venues from 16 March to 30 June.
  • Infrastructure charges can be deferred up to three years with no interest payment in the first 12 months.
  • Parking regulators will issue warnings instead of infringements in general unless the infringement relates to health and safety issues or parking in disabled parking spaces.
  • Paid parking waiver for Bulcock Street, Caloundra from 1 April to 30 June.
Image Source: Revive | Oceanside – Gardner Vaughan Group
Image Source: Carlyle Terraces | Pelican Waters– HM Developments

Take-Home

With respect to the Sunshine Coast Regional Council, we have been advised by Council that applications for deferral of infrastructure charges can be made direct to Council’s Infrastructure Charges Unit, with specific mechanics of applying for deferred payment yet to be resolved. We will continue to keep a close eye on this space and provide our valued clients with updates as they become available and for the time being, we can make representations to Council on a case-by-case basis.

The approach adopted by the Queensland State Government is prudent and responds to a potential ripple effect where industry, government and the community may be radically affected by COVID-19 combat measures (i.e. self-isolation and work-from-home). The amendments to the planning legislation are vital to allow the Planning and Economic Development Minister to extend or suspend statutory timeframes. This will provide certainty that planning decisions, such as those that occur during development assessment, will be undertaken in a timely manner to ensure that community and industry confidence in the planning framework is maintained. Whilst the Minister for Planning has not yet given any extension or suspension notices for the COVID-19 event, we have been advised by State Government that an extension or suspension notice may be announced later this week or early next week.

If you have any further questions, contact Danya at Bennett + Bennett on 07 5631 8000