Environment & Planning updates

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26 March 2020 - Dennis Loether

Emergency amendments to the EPA Act in response to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic situation is evolving daily and is putting an unprecedented strain on the health system in NSW (and Australia).

In such circumstances, it is important that the planning system has the capacity to respond and, in certain circumstances, the ability to circumvent existing barriers in our laws that may prevent the effective addressing of these issues.

On 25 March 2020, the NSW Government introduced the COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020 (the Emergency Bill), which made changes to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (the Act) as well as various other pieces of NSW legislation.

In a drastic move, the Emergency Bill allows the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces to make an order for development to be carried out without the normal planning approval. However, the Minister can only make such an order after consultation with the Minister for Health and Medical Research, and once reasonably satisfied that the making of the order is necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of members of the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some examples of development that may be approved under this new section include:

  • the conversion of business and buildings and land into vital services;
  • the transformation of buildings into temporary hospitals; and
  • the transformation of community centres into homeless shelters.

It is not unreasonable to expect that any development approved in this manner could have unforeseen implications after the COVID-19 situation resolves. However, the importance of being able to respond to the current crisis outweighs such concerns at this time.

In a more minor change, the Emergency Bill has also removed the requirement for planning decision makers (such as councils) to display physical copies of some documents.

The amendments are in place for the next six months (or up to 12 months if specified in the Regulation).

If you have any questions about these amendments, or any concerns about how they may affect you, please call us to discuss.