Burke Lawyers remain open providing legal services in planning and property development law. We are keeping up to date with the implications of COVID-19 for our clients affected by legal planning and property issues. We have adapted our practice by using a number of technology tools to keep business running as usual.
There have been many updates from key sources on the way in which Councils, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), Planning Panels Victoria (PPV) and industry bodies are planning to progress and support stakeholders working within the planning and property regulatory regimes.
It is important to ensure as far as possible that applications for planning permits are assessed, hearings can occur or, better still, cases are settled so that planning permits can issue or there is otherwise certainty for stakeholders in relation to the future of proposals. Likewise, the advocacy of industry groups on behalf of the urban development and other industries is important.
All good measures will follow through to positively impact our economy, in particular employment in building and construction and investment in property development.
Here is what is occurring in the space.
VCAT and PPV
Burke Lawyers attended a webinar presented by the Victorian Planning and Environmental Law Association (VPELA) via the Zoom platform on Wednesday 25 March 2020, updating members on the current status of how both VCAT and PPV will administer matters and hold any hearings going forward.
The panel of presenters highlighted that all participants need to adapt to the technology available, which is important for progressing matters while VCAT and PPV develop plans to hear matters via the Zoom or other platform. As there is a large volume of cases in VCAT and PPV, this will take time.
The presenters advised on key updates and issues for consideration for participants in matters before VCAT and PPV.
In relation to VCAT cases these include, in summary:
- VCAT is adjourning all non-critical cases listed up to and including 17 April 2020;
- VCAT is not listing face to face hearings;
- Video and teleconferencing options are being developed by Court Services Victoria;
- Issues for consideration include security of access and physical concerns as VCAT operates with paper files in addition to online administration;
- VCAT will be encouraging filing of more documents to assist in narrowing issues and the resolution of matters;
- VCAT will encourage settlements and filing of consent orders, as well as the parties managing compulsory conferences on their own then seeking a consent order from VCAT; and
- The VCAT Registry has been asked to prioritise requests for consent orders.
In relation to matters before PPV, these include, in summary:
- There is unlikely to be any face to face meetings;
- Alternative arrangements will be made for hearings;
- Directions hearings will be held on the papers; and
- PPV is exploring holding hearings by video conference.
A number of the VPELA webinar panel conducted a mock hearing at PPV in the context of using the Zoom platform. It illustrated the tools available to watch and hear advocates, parties and members of the Tribunal, as well making documents referred to in submissions and filed with PPV, available on the screen by all participants.
We appreciate the effort of VPELA and the panel participants bringing us all up to date at a critical time and sharing proposed technology tools for the benefit of the VPELA membership and the wider community.
For updates direct from VCAT, visit the VCAT website and coronavirus update page at: https://www.vcat.vic.gov.au/news/coronavirus-covid-19-response
As at 25 March 2020, VCAT’s website included measures that were reflected in the VPELA webinar presentation. It states that while VCAT venues are closed to the public, VCAT is considered an essential service at this time and will still be hearing some matters by telephone.
Council planning permit assessments and decisions
An important impact on local councils has been the postponement of all non-essential services and events, with the closure of some facilities and the customer service centre counters, replacing the latter for example telephone, email and online enquiries and responses.
Council meetings are still considered an essential service and will continue to run, in some Councils the public participation section has been cancelled and live streaming options are provided (for example at Glen Eira City Council and City of Casey).
Planning permits are still considered an essential service and Councils will be processing applications in the usual way, subject to social distancing measures in relation to meetings, with Council officers either working in Council offices or at home, according to each Council’s directive.
At present, for details on how the planning permit process of any particular Council may be impacted, it will be necessary to contact the specific Council. We expect planning specific updates to be published in relation to the ongoing services and operations of all Councils across Victoria by industry representative bodies, in coming weeks.
Property Development, Building and Construction – Support for the Industry
As the CEO of the Urban Development Institute of Australia, Victoria Branch (UDIA Victoria), Danni Hunter has recently stated recently in the media, the property and construction industry employs 1.4 million Australians. Retaining the employment of people in this industry is important for the economy and the continued employment of people.
At present, building, construction and development sites are to remain open according to the statement of Victorian Premier Dan Andrews on 23 March 2020.
UDIA Victoria released the UDIA Victoria COVID-19 Action Plan for Government and Industry on Wednesday 25 March 2020. UDIA Victoria is meeting with government (the Treasurer and the Minister for Planning) to advocate on behalf of the industry to keep operating as an essential service and continue government services to administer planning, property and other relevant regulatory regimes.
In addition, UDIA Victoria advocates that government must, in the next phase, continue its business digitally and remotely. Some examples include, in summary, to:
- Streamline and accelerate planning approvals;
- Keep the flow of other regulatory approvals required by state and local government;
- Maintain statement of compliance approvals; and
- Maintain land registry activities and support property settlement.
We encourage our clients to visit the UDIA Victoria website for the latest information impacting the urban development industry at https://www.udiavic.com.au/UDIA-COVID-19
How can we help?
At Burke Lawyers, we are here to provide support to various industries including the building, construction and property development industries, particularly during these unprecedented times.
We are able to provide legal advice specifically tailored to assist you in all stages of your project, whether planning due diligence, assisting in planning permit applications or objections, VCAT matters, building contracts, off-the-plan sales, disputes and more.
Not sure if we can help you? Call our team at Burke Lawyers. We invite you to have a no obligation discussion with our team to see if we can assist you. And, if we can’t, we can point you in the right direction. To discuss further, please contact Kristy Muhlhan, Principal, who heads our Property and Property Development Team at Burke Lawyers on firstname.lastname@example.org respectively, or +61 3 9822 8588.