Law Reform · Access to Justice

Radical change proposed to costs laws in Planning and Environment Court

03 October, 2012

The Sustainable Planning and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 (Bill), which was introduced to Parliament on 13 September 2012, proposes significant amendments to the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 with major implications for the community’s access to the Planning and Environment Court, the process for development assessment and regional planning, among other issues.

The Bill has been referred to the State Development, Infrastructure and Industry Committee for consideration. Opportunities to make submissions on the Bill close on 12 October, details are here.


Perhaps the most far-reaching amendment relates to the costs rules in the Planning and Environment Court.

Currently, parties to a dispute in the Planning and Environment Court bear their own costs. This principle has been in place for over twenty years and is recognised by the judiciary as a rule that encourages community involvement in decision making and enables citizens to appeal to the Court without fear that crippling costs orders will be made against them.

The amendments seek to change this rule to “costs follow the event”, whereby the loser pays the winner’s costs.

Well-resourced Local Governments and developers can afford to wear this risk, which means the changes disproportionately affect individuals and community groups concerned about the impact of developments.

This change to the costs rule and the vast increase in the risks for individuals and community groups is likely to prevent any number of legitimate actions being taken in the public interest.

  • The Bill proposes to return to a centralised process for state assessment or responses to development applications, similar to the process of referral coordination that existed under the Integrated Planning Act 1997.
  • The Bill proposes to give assessment managers, including local governments, discretion to accept development applications that have not been properly made. It also allows proponents to make a development application without evidence of a State resource allocation. This is currently necessary where a development involves, for example, water, fisheries resources and fish habitats, quarry material taken under the Coastal Protection and Management Act 1995 or the Water Act 2000.

The Government purports to provide “strategic guidance at the regional level through clearer and more focused regional plans” and a reformed, streamlined plan-making process, however no detail has been provided on what this process will involve.

 

Environmental Defenders Office Queensland (EDO Qld) gives a strong legal voice to the environment when needed most.

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