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Difficulties due to COVID-19 not an excuse to vacate a hearing date

A recent decision in the Land and Environment Court to set aside a Registrar’s order that a three-day hearing be set aside substantially due to the difficulties associated with the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the Court’s willingness to facilitate the continuation of hearings, where appropriate, despite the difficulties associated with virtual hearings.

In DVCI Pty Ltd v City of Parramatta Council [2020] NSWLEC 31, during a general call over of all matters pursuant to the Court’s adoption of the COVID-19 Pandemic Arrangements Policy, the solicitor for the City of Parramatta Council sought an order that the hearing the subject of the Class 1 Appeal, scheduled to take place in May 2020, be vacated.

The hearing was scheduled to be heard before Acting Commissioner Bindon, who had, as part of the section 34 process, attended the subject site and heard submissions from nearby residents. Council argued that the hearing should be vacated as it was necessary for all relevant parties to attend the site as part of the hearing, which would be difficult in the current climate. Further, Council had only recently retained a planning expert who had not yet attended the site, and was unwilling to go the site due to COVID-19. Despite submissions from the developer as to the prejudice to the developer if the hearing was vacated, and a submission that the matter should proceed by way of audio-visual link due to the fact that Acting Commissioner Bindon had already attended the site and heard from residents, the Registrar ultimately made the decision to vacate the hearing date.
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UTSG Pty Ltd v Sydney Metro (No 6) [2020] NSWLEC 63

A recent Land and Environment Court claim brought in respect of Class 3 proceedings to determine the compensation payable for the compulsory acquisition of a leasehold interest has resulted in the determination that the applicant be awarded nil compensation taking when into consideration outstanding occupation fees, as well as an order for a non-party cost against the director of the applicant company.

In late 2016, Sydney Metro served a Proposed Acquisition Notice on UTSG Pty Ltd (“UTSG”) in respect of its leasehold interest in premises located in Park Street, Sydney, for the purposes of construction of the Sydney Metro – City and South West Project. Sydney Metro had already acquired the freehold interest in the Park Street property, and advised UTSG they required vacant possession of the property by April 2017 and that rent remained payable for occupation of the premises. Rent remained at the amount previously paid by UTSG, being $31,402 per month (plus GST of $3,140) to be paid to Sydney Metro.
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Requests pursuant to GIPA Act

A recent Civil and Administrative Tribunal decision has upheld a local council’s decision to refuse an individual’s request for documents pursuant to the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (the GIPA Act).

A resident and ratepayer (“the applicant”) who resides in the local government area of the Sutherland Shire Council, made a request pursuant to the GIPA Act for documents relating to Council’s stormwater management investigation in respect of a stormwater issue on/near the applicant’s property, including information on who had directed Council’s officers, and who drafted responses on behalf of Council officers. In particular, the applicant sought the following records relevant to this decision:

  1. I request a record of the written report of the ‘visit’ by the relevant officer/s (ref:8/1/19), CR18-301708 Mr Barber’s email 5/12/18, para 3)
  2. Should no record exist for the ‘visit’ in Item 7, then I request the record supporting Mr Barber’s conclusion: there was no ‘problematic overland flow.’
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Part 6 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act is Finally Coming into Effect (Hopefully)!

On 30 August 2019, the NSW government introduced the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Building and Subdivision Certification) Regulation 2019 (NSW). With this, Part 6 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (NSW) (the EPA Act) is likely to finally come into effect on 1 December 2019, bringing significant changes to the building approval and certification regimes in NSW.

Background

Part 6 of the EPA Act was inserted into the EPA Act as part of the major reform package introduced by the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment Act 2017 (NSW). With the exception of the sections relating to the Building Information Certificate, Part 6 did not immediately commence with most of the reform package. Instead, its commencement was delayed several times to enable industry to make the transition.

Introduced by the state government as a part of its response to the report on the building certification regime in NSW by former state treasury secretary Michael Lambert (the Lambert Report), Part 6 of the EPA consolidated all provisions relating to building certification – which was previously found at various parts of the EPA Act – into a one single part within the EPA Act. Further, Part 6 will make the following substantive changes:
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An Ethical Issue Expert Witness Opinions

The recent case of DeBattista v Minister for Planning and Environment [2019] NSWCA 237 highlights the importance for an expert witness to provide a report that reflects their own opinion unless stated otherwise.

In this case, Council engaged with an external Urban Design Consultant (Consultant) to comment on a planning proposal. After Council requested significant changes to the first and second draft reports, the Consultant provided a third and final version adopting such changes. The contention was that the final version of the report failed to identify the adopted comments from Council and thus was prima facie the Consultant’s prepared report based on their own opinion.

His Honour divulged the greater pressure asserted on the Consultant by Council noting that the terms of the professional’s retainer were that it would not be paid if Council was dissatisfied with the opinion provided. His Honour further stated that:

No professional should assent to such a term. No ethical client should demand it
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Interlocutory Injunction at the Land and Environment Court

An interlocutory injunction is a type of an interim relief that the Court can order, usually to preserve the status quo until a formal hearing can be conducted. In this article, we will take a look at the elements of the interlocutory injunctions in the planning and environmental law context, and discuss some of the common issues councils may face when applying for interlocutory injunctions.

The Elements

There are, in essence, two elements that must be positively addressed before the Court will grant an interlocutory injunction.

Firstly, the applicant for the interlocutory injunction must prove there is a serious question to be tried. It is not necessary, for the purpose of addressing this element, to show that the applicant has a strong case. It would be sufficient to show that the applicant has a prima facie case by identifying the statutory or other legal rights on which the final relief are based.

Secondly, the applicant must show that the balance of convenience favours the applicant. In the planning and environmental law context, the Court would often consider the following non-exhaustive factors:
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Removal of Shrubs to Prevent Consents from Lapsing

The Court of Appeal (Court) in recent judgment of Cardo Management and Maintenance Pty Ltd v Cumberland Council [2019] has established an easier criteria to prevent a lapse of consent, assisting developers and landowners in protecting their development rights. Section 4.53 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (Act) stipulates that a development consent for the erection of a building, subdivision of land or the carrying out of work will lapse if no physical commencement of the development occurs after 5 years.

Land and Environmental Court Judgment

Within the recent judgment, the Land and Environment Court (LEC) had found that the developer had failed to establish that lawful works had physically commenced before the lapsing date of the consent. The developer had removed shrubs and trees as well as erecting fences and disconnecting the water.

The LEC found that the demolition of the trees and shrubs were not completed by a certified arborist as required by the consent, and further, the work on the fence and disconnection of water hadn’t been approved by the Principal Certifying Authority as per the consent. As such, the work done did not lawfully constitute physical commencement of the development.
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Beyond the Usual Argy Bargy – How Repeated Amendments to Class 1 Appeal Application Can Lead to General Costs Order

In the recent case of Statewide Planning Pty Ltd v Penrith City Council (No. 3) [2018] NSWLEC 109 (Statewide Planning), the Land and Environment Court (LEC) heard the Council’s Notice of Motion (NOM) for costs against the developer who had amended plans annexed to the Class 1 Appeal 11 times in the course of a Class 1 development appeal proceeding that lasted almost two years. The judge presiding the hearing for the NOM, Justice Sheahan, found: –

  • the conduct of the developer had gone beyond ‘the usual argy bargy’ between a party in Class 1 Appeal proceedings;
  • the developer should pay the Council’s legal costs in respect of the whole proceedings, in addition to any costs thrown away by reason of making those amendments; and
  • the Council was permitted to bring the NOM even though it was filed outside of the deadline permitted by the LEC’s Practice Note – Class 1 Development Appeals.
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