COVID-19: Changes to development approvals
Like most sectors of the economy, developers and the construction industry is not immune from the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. Major disruption to supply chains and possible difficulty sourcing materials means many development projects may be delayed. Following a number of workers on several construction sites in Australia testing positive for COVID-19, worker shortages or the temporary shutdown of construction sites is also a very real possibility.
With mounting concern for the health and safety of construction workers, there are some that insist building sites should be shut down. However, the Government and peak industry bodies insist that the construction and building sector (which accounts for $213 billion to the national economy and employs over 1.2 million workers at the national level) is an essential business that must continue, albeit with precautions that minimise the risk of infection.
A key measure to minimise the spread of COVID-19 on construction sites is physical distancing. Safe Work Australia has released information on COVID-19 and work health and safety which provides guidance on minimising the risk of COVID-19 on construction sites.
While social distancing measures are necessary to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19, they are also likely to contribute to delays or disruptions to project schedules. New South Wales has recently introduced extended hours across the industry to allow construction work over weekends and public holidays. These rules are intended to ensure the industry can accommodate fewer workers on site for social distancing while also minimising the potential for lost productivity during the pandemic. Similarly, the City of Melbourne has stated that it will temporarily accommodate more flexible operating hours on a temporary basis for commercial, large residential and mixed-use development construction work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Queensland has not introduced an ‘extended operating hours’ regime per se, recent changes to Queensland’s planning laws in response to COVID-19 may allow Queensland developers to mitigate some of the delays caused by social distancing regulations and certain risks associated with supply chain disruptions.
Temporary Use Licences
In the current climate, obligations under Workplace Health and Safety laws and social distancing regulations will undoubtedly slow down work and have an impact on the delivery of development projects. Recognising that many businesses may need to innovate or change how they operate in unprecedented circumstances, Queensland has introduced a new “Temporary Use Licence”. Through an application to the State, any person can apply for a Temporary Use Licence to (among other things) change the conditions of an existing development approval.
These changes may allow developers to extend operating hours on construction sites or amend other development conditions to mitigate delays caused by social distancing and other government regulations. At the time of writing, 4 Temporary Use Licences have been approved, including 2 for extended operating hours for construction or building related works.
Importantly, a Temporary Use Licence does not remove the need to obtain any other approvals that might be required by local, State and/or Commonwealth jurisdictions and will only last for the length of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Time limits on existing development approvals
Most development approvals require construction to substantially commence or complete within a certain time frame before the development approval will lapse. Unfortunately, the construction sector is expected to face significant difficulties sourcing construction materials, primarily based in China and other parts of Asia, due to the outbreak COVID-19. As a result, the commencement or completion of many development projects may be delayed if construction materials cannot be sourced elsewhere.
Where the Minister of Development and Planning is satisfied that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic it is necessary to do so, the Minister may allow for increased flexibility by issuing notices to either extend or suspend the period for the doing of a thing. This power will be essential to appropriately manage development assessment timeframes during the COVID-19 event so that developers and assessment managers avoid any prejudice.
These changes could allow developers to mitigate some of the delays and risks associated with social distancing and other COVID-19 related issues.
If you would like any further information or require any assistance please do not hesitate to get in touch with one of our lawyers in the commercial property team on 1300 749 709.