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HG Alert: Government imposes further restriction on clearing freehold land for urban purposes - 27 Nov 2009

Sustainable Planning Act 2009 to commence on 18 December 2009

The Vegetation Management and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2009 was assented to on 3 November 2009 and came into effect retrospectively on 8 October 2009. One of the amendments which commenced on that date was a change to the definition of “urban area” under the Integrated Planning Act 1997. The amendment deleted a sub-paragraph of the definition of “urban area”, which defined land included in a Priority Infrastructure Area under a Priority Infrastructure Plan as land in an “urban area” for the purposes of the Integrated Planning Act.

The effect of the definition, before this amendment, was that clearing for urban purposes of “of concern” or “least concern” remnant vegetation on land included in a Priority Infrastructure Area was excluded as assessable operational work. This has now changed. Clearing of “of concern” and “least concern” vegetation for urban purposes on land within the boundaries of a Priority Infrastructure Area, which is not yet zoned for urban purposes under a planning scheme, will require a development application for operational work for clearing the vegetation (unless another exemption is available). It is likely that such applications will not be properly made because of section 22A of the Vegetation Management Act, and when the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 commences, will be clearing that falls within a prohibition under Schedule 1.

This is a significant change in policy for vegetation clearing in urban areas on the part of the Queensland Government. The definition of “urban area” has, until this change, included all land other than rural residential or future rural residential land within a Priority Infrastructure Area, since the Vegetation and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2004 commenced.

This change will affect land owners who have obtained within the last five years, but not yet implemented, development approvals which did not require assessment against the Vegetation Management Act because the land was, at the relevant time, regarded as within an “urban area”, within the boundaries of the Priority Infrastructure Plan, although not yet zoned “urban”.

This change in the definition of “urban area” has been reflected in the Sustainable Planning Regulation 2009 which will commence, together with the Sustainable Planning Act, on 18 December 2009.

As far as we are aware, this policy change was not announced by the Bligh Government as part of the vegetation management reforms in its March election platform, and has not been the subject of any subsequent discussion with relevant stakeholders. We are not aware of any other publication by the State Government which foreshadowed this change, and believe that it will take many land owners by surprise.

If you believe you might be affected by this change, please contact HopgoodGanim’s Planning and Development team for advice.