This article was written by Anna Vella and Grace Manahan.
As we all know, a new coronavirus emerged in Wuhan City, in the Hubei Province of China (COVID-19) in December 2019.
As a result of the growth of COVID-19 internationally, on 29 January 2020, a public health emergency was declared in Queensland under section 319 of the Public Health Act 2005 (Qld). The COVID-19 emergency has been extended until 19 May 2020, and may (subject to how the ongoing health situation evolves) require further extension.
Planning Act amendments
In response to the situation in Queensland, on 18 March 2020 the Public Health and Other Legislation (Public Health Emergency) Amendment Bill 2020 (Qld) (PHOLA Bill) was introduced and passed State parliament.
Among other things, the PHOLA Bill will amend the Planning Act 2016 (Qld) (Planning Act) to enable the Planning Minister to make a declaration "an event has, is, or is likely to take place" that may affect a State interest – which includes events the Minister is satisfied affects an economic or environmental interest of the State. This is designed to ensure 'the planning framework is able to make advance preparations and respond to emerging situations'.
Temporary use licence
During the event declaration period, a person may apply to the chief executive of the Department of State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning (DSDMIP) for a licence (a "temporary use licence") in relation to premises.
Temporary use licences are designed to ensure 'important services may continue to be provided to the community, as needed during declared applicable events, by allowing operators to change lawful existing use rights'. Among other things, temporary use licences can:
- change conditions of an existing development approval;
- provide that a use of premises is not required to comply with any requirements (where it is a designed premises); or
- change the existing lawful use of premises, by: increasing the intensity or scale of the existing lawful use, adding a new use or replacing the existing lawful use with a new one.
DSDMIP may give a temporary use licence if satisfied that, having regard to the nature of the applicable event, there are reasonable grounds for the relevant change the subject of the licence applying during the applicable event period. The Minister may grant the temporary use licence with or without conditions or refuse the application (with the reasons for the refusal decision).
The temporary use licence has effect when given until the end of the applicable event period. Therefore, it seems that a temporary use licence may be a more appropriate tool in circumstances where new buildings or structures are not required to enable the possible change of use.
Modification to relevant statutory periods
The Minister has the ability to temporarily suspend or extend statutory timeframes for the planning framework, as defined in the Planning Act 2016 and the State Development Assessment Provisions, where needed.
Declared uses, hours of operation and movements of goods
Through the concept of 'declared uses', the Minister will have powers to make declarations about particular uses and classes of uses. The amendment is designed to ensure there is 'an immediate ability to manage supply chains for businesses by allowing 24 hours, seven days per week operating conditions in order to provide goods and services to the community during the applicable event'.
What this means for you
The Planning Act amendments are geared towards providing flexibility to meet the needs to land uses and the delivery of services as the COVID-19 situation continues to unfold. We anticipate that these changes could mean a lot of different opportunities across a variety of sectors.
A temporary use licence may well facilitate the delivery of services to meet the ongoing demands likely to be placed on networks and service providers who, for an undetermined period of time, will be meeting the needs of a large number of the community who are working from home.
Similarly, for the owners and operators of commercial premises these changes should provide flexibility and enable spaces to be repurposes for a period of time to meet new and changing requirements.
Please don't hesitate in contacting us if we can assist you during this period.
 'Events' are broadly defined under the section 16 of the Disaster Management Act 2003 (Qld) to include, inter alia, prescribed extreme weather events, epidemics; and the failure of, or disruption to, an essential service or infrastructure.
 Public Health (Declared Public Health Emergencies) Amendment Act 2020 (Qld) Division 4.