Section 15 Notice – Protection from offence against planning law

On 24 April 2020, a notice was issued by the Premier of Tasmania, with the approval of the State Controller, under section 15 of the COVID-19 Act. The section 15 notice is available for viewing in the Tasmanian Government Gazette – Special Gazette of 24 April 2020.

The notice provides protection from any offence against planning law for certain emergency use and development for health services during the COVID-19 emergency period.

What use and development is covered by the notice?

The notice declares that a person does not commit an offence against the Land Use Planning and Approvals Act 1993 for any use or development undertaken for the purposes of Hospital Services, medical centres or consulting rooms if it is necessary to effectively implement or comply with a requirement, direction or authorisation under the Emergency Management Act 2006 or the Public Health Act 1997.

This may apply to the use of existing buildings, or the erection and use of temporary buildings or structures to allow health professionals to continue to consult, diagnose and treat patients during the COVID-19 emergency. However, the use or development must be necessary to the implementation of, or compliance with, a requirement, direction or authorisation made in relation to the COVID-19 emergency.

Such use or development does not require a planning permit from the local council for these purposes.

The notice also provides protection from any offence relating to the contravention of an existing planning permit that may be in place on the site. The relevant authorisation under the Building Act 2016 may still be required.

How are Hospital Services, medical centres and consulting rooms defined?

Hospital Services, medical centres and consulting rooms have the same definitions as in the State Planning Provisions, as follows:

Hospital Services – use of land to provide health care (including preventative care, diagnosis, medical and surgical treatment, rehabilitation, psychiatric care and counselling) to persons admitted as inpatients. If the land is so used, the use includes the care or treatment of outpatients.

Medical centre – means use of land to provide health services (including preventative care, diagnosis, medical and surgical treatment, and counselling) to out-patients only.

Consulting room – means use of land for services provided by a health or other therapies practitioner, other than services provided by a medical centre.

Why is the notice required and why is it limited to certain use and development?

The notice ensures there are no planning impediments for any critical health services that are necessary to implement or comply with a requirement, direction or authorisation during the COVID-19 emergency.

Directions issued under the Emergency Management Act 2006 or the Public Health Act 1997 during the COVID-19 emergency may require variations to how existing health facilities are used, or require the erection temporary structures on the site or in other locations. It would be necessary to implement these changes immediately without the need to gain a planning permit from the relevant local council.

The notice provides temporary and emergency relief from the planning requirements, specifically the need to gain a planning permit from the local council. It also provides protection from any contravention of an existing planning permit that may occur.

Some existing planning schemes already include planning permit exemptions for certain emergency works. This notice provides clear exemptions for use and development related to health services during the emergency period to avoid any uncertainty.

The notice is currently limited to essential health services, however additional use and development may be considered in the future if necessary to implement any other urgent requirements, directions or authorisations during the COVID-19 emergency period.

How long does the notice remain in effect?

The notice will remain in effect for 12 months, unless revoked earlier.

The COVID-19 Act provides for notices to be revoked or amended. All notices are automatically revoked 60 days after the end of the emergency period as declared by the Premier.

What happens to any development after the expiry of the emergency period?

Any development undertaken in accordance with the notice is taken to be authorised under the relevant planning scheme, meaning that it remains lawful after the end of the COVID-19 emergency period.

However, the relevant Minister may determine that the development be removed at the end of the emergency period.