Posted on April 30, 2020 by Brigitte Elvy and Sue Puckeridge

COVID-19 Update: Electronic conduct of planning bodies’ public meetings and public hearings

The State Government has introduced the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (COVID-19 Planning Bodies) Regulation 2020 (‘COVID Reg‘).  The COVID Reg deals with the holding of public meetings and public hearings by planning bodies.  It is aimed at ensuring both the continued operation of the planning system together with the continued involvement of the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID Reg applies to local planning panels, district planning panels, regional planning panels, the Independent Planning Commission and panels established by the Minister or Planning Secretary under section 2.3 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (‘EPA Act‘).

The COVID Reg introduces a new clause 294 into the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000 (‘EPA Reg‘).  Under this new clause, for a temporary period, all public meetings and public hearings are to:

  1. be held by way of audio link or audio visual link; and
  2. be able to be heard or viewed electronically by members of the public whilst the meeting or hearing is being held.

The temporary period is the period prescribed under s10.17 of the EPA Act.  It commenced on 25 March 2020 and ends on either the day that is 6 months after 25 March 2020 or a later day, not more than 12 months after 25 March 2020 as prescribed by the regulations.

While planning bodies have previously had the capability of conducting meetings electronically, the COVID Reg now requires this of all public meetings and public hearings held during the prescribed period. It is not sufficient for a planning body to record the meeting or hearing and subsequently make the recording publicly available. The meeting or hearing must, in effect, be ‘live’ to the public.

Notice of the public meeting or public hearing must include information as to how members of the public can view or hear the meeting.

Under clause cl 294(6) of the EPA Reg, a person who is required to attend the public hearing or public meeting satisfies this requirement by participating by way of audio or audio visual link, rather than by attending in person.

A copy of the COVID Reg can be accessed here.

We have previously blogged on other amendments to the EPA Act and EPA Reg introduced by the COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Act 2020. That blog can be viewed here.

If you would like to discuss this article, please leave a comment or contact Sue Puckeridge on 8235 9702 or Brigitte Elvy on 8235 9707.