David Nicholls - Partner

David Nicholls Recognised as one of Australia’s top planning and environment lawyers in international legal directories.

Overview Experience Publications Contact

Queensland is going through a period of significant regulatory change regarding planning and development. Since publishing his paper on the need for reform of Queensland’s planning system in 2012, David has been appointed by the Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning onto the three focus groups that are peer reviewing the proposed changes in the areas of planning schemes, development assessment and dispute resolution. David is the only lawyer on all three focus groups and is intimately engaged in the strategic thinking that will shape the laws.

The head of HopgoodGanim’s Planning and Environment practice, David has a reputation as one of Australia’s top planning and environment lawyers, with recognition in local and international legal directories including being Recommended in Doyle's Guide to Australia's Leading Planning and Environment Lawyers - 2016, Pre-eminent in Doyle's Guide to Leading Planning and Development Lawyers - Queensland, 2017 & 2018, Leading in Doyle's Guide to Leading Environment & Heritage Lawyers - Queensland, 2017Practical Law Company's Environment Handbook 2010/2011 and Chambers Asia-Pacific in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018. David was also named a Best Lawyer in Australia for Planning and Environmental Law by the Australian Financial Review in 2013, and Best Lawyers International: Australia in 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19 for Planning & Environment Law. He has since been recently named in Who's Who Legal: Australia 2017 for Environment Law. 

In addition to advising on planning and environment litigation with a strong focus on negotiated dispute resolution, David gives extensive front-end technical and strategic advice to project proponents and conducts due diligence. He has particular experience in relation to linear infrastructure, having acted for the owners and developers of gas pipelines, railways and fibre optic cables.

David has been at the forefront of industry consultation in the preparation of legislation affecting development in Queensland and has made extensive submissions to government related to the Integrated Planning Act 1994, the Sustainable Planning Act 2009, the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003, the Vegetation Management Act 1999, the Coastal Protection and Management Act 1995, the Queensland Heritage Act 1992 and the Iconic Queensland Places Act 2008.

David was recently appointed as a senior contributing author of “Planning and Development Queensland” by Thomson Reuters, replacing Emeritus Professor Alan Fogg upon his retirement.  Planning and Development Queensland is the leading publication on the regulation of planning matters in the Queensland jurisdiction. 

David's involvement with stakeholder organisations and industry bodies enriches the advice he offers clients and has been vital to his success. He is a past President of the Queensland Environmental Law Association and was Chair of the Urban Development Institute of Australia (Qld)'s Local Government and Planning Committee from 2002 to 2011. He has since stepped down as a Director and Secretary of the Institute as of 2017.

David’s qualifications include a Master of Laws, majoring in Environmental and Natural Resources Law, from Queensland University of Technology.  He is admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of Queensland and the High Court of Australia.

Areas of Practice

  • Representing UnityWater in proceedings in the Supreme Court seeking declarations regarding the proper construction of an infrastructure agreement governing the development of North Lakes, relating to the capping of credits available for sewerage infrastructure.
  • Representing Hymix Pty Ltd in a significant appeal involving the recommissioning of the moth-balled precast concrete facility adjoining the Bruce Highway at Bald Hills which produced all of the prestressed concrete elements used to construct the Airport link tunnel.
  • Advising and successfully obtaining summary judgment for a group of respondents relating to the Tangalooma Island Resort against an applicant for declarations in the Planning and Environment Court.
  • Advising Multiplex and ISPT on the Wintergarden/Regent projects, which required negotiation in relation to the imposition of conditions on the project, a community group concerned with the conservation of the Regent Theatre, and affected neighbours. An appeal to the Planning and Environment Court by these parties was litigated and eventually resolved, resulting in the grant of a development permit by the Court.
  • Acting for a corporation and its directors in one of the first prosecutions under the Environmental Protection Act 1974 for “potential” environmental harm, from an aluminium waste reprocessing facility, resulting in acquittal.
  • Acting for a major waste recycler in proceedings brought by the environmental regulator in relation to the operation of a waste transfer facility.
  • Advising NextGen Networks/Visionstream (Leighton) on planning, environmental, licensing and cultural heritage issues in relation to the development of fibre optic cables between Brisbane, Cairns and Perth, including successfully defending injunctive proceedings in the Queensland Land and Resources Tribunal.
  • Successfully acting for Consolidated Properties in an appeal by the St John’s Cathedral Chapter in the Planning and Environment Court concerning a commercial office development adjoining the heritage listed St John’s Cathedral precinct in Brisbane.
  • Successfully representing a group of residents of the Hope Island Canal Estate on the Gold Coast in judicial review proceedings in the Supreme Court to overturn a resolution of the Gold Coast City Council to impose a special levy for certain canal infrastructure that benefited other land not changed, and successfully defending the judgment in the Court of Appeal.