Planning Law Update: Has the clock really stopped?

In certain circumstances, a request for additional information will ‘stop the clock’: that is, the time for lodging an appeal ceases to run until either the information is provided within the time specified by the Council or the applicant tells the Council that it doesn’t intend to provide the information.

However, failing to provide the information within the time specified by the Council may not result in the clock restarting.

In a decision handed down earlier this week, the Land and Environment Court held that a Council’s actions following the end of the period within which the additional information was required to be provided effectively amounted to an extension of time for the provision of the information: Corbett Constructions P/L v Wollondilly Shire Council [2017] NSWLEC 135 (9 October 2017).

In that case the Council had requested a substantial amount of additional information in relation to a development application for a large medium-density residential development. The additional information included a residential flat building architectural design verification; a new BASIX statement; a phase 1 contaminated site assessment; a flood impact assessment and various other pieces of information. The request for information was made 10 days after the DA was lodged and therefore complied with the requirement that such requests be made within 25 days from the date of lodgement of the DA: reg 109(2). The request required that this information be made available within 28 days and indicated that if the information was not received, the application may be determined on the basis of the current information.

The deadline for the provision of the additional information passed, and sometime later, an exchange of emails took place between the applicant and the Council in which the applicant indicated that the additional information would be provided in the coming weeks. This was followed by a letter from the Council noting that the requested information had not been provided and warning that if the information was not provided within the following 7 days, it would be assumed that the applicant wished to have the DA determined on the information previously submitted. When the additional information had still not been provided, the assessing officer emailed the applicant noting that I have previously provided until 18 October for the provision of the outstanding information and indicating that if the information was not provided by the end of the week, the assessment report would be prepared without it. The requested information was provided that day.

When the DA remained undetermined some months later, the applicant lodged an appeal to the Land and Environment Court against the deemed refusal of the application. The Council applied to strike out the appeal on the basis that the appeal was required to be commenced within 6 months from the date on which the application was deemed to be refused (ss. 82 and 97(1)(b)), and that this period had already expired.

The issue for the Court was whether the Council’s request for additional information had stopped the clock only for the 28 day period specified in the Council’s letter requesting the information, or until the ultimate deadline nominated in the assessment officer’s email of 18 October. The appeal was only within time if the clock had been stopped until 18 October.

The Council argued that, because there had been no information provided in answer to the Council’s letter within the 28 day period specified, time began to run again once the 28 day period had expired. This meant that the appeal had commenced more than 6 months after the date on which it was deemed to have been refused.

The Applicant referred to the requirement in reg 54(2)(b) that the request for additional information specify a reasonable period for the provision of the additional information and argued that the 28 day period specified by the Council was, having regard to the nature of the additional information requested, unreasonable. In fact, the Applicant described the task of providing the information to the Council in the specified timeframe as so onerous that it was mission impossible. In any event, the Applicant argued that the Council had extended the time for the provision of the information, and the information had been provided prior to the expiration of the extended deadline.

As indicated above, the Court accepted the Applicant’s argument that the Council had in fact extended the time for the provision of the additional information, the information was provided within that extended period and the clock had been stopped until that time. In coming to this conclusion the Court found that a consent authority was not restricted to allowing a further period of time for the provision of additional information only before the expiry of any period specified in the request for further information. Rather, it is open to the consent authority, after the expiry of that period, to re-assess the situation and provide the applicant with further time to provide the information requested.

These findings meant that it was unnecessary for the Court to determine whether the initial 28 day period specified by the Council was reasonable in the circumstances of the development application. Nevertheless the Court went on the make some useful comments on what the requirement for the specification of a reasonable period entails. Those comments may be summarised as follows:

  1. The inclusion of the word reasonable in reg 54(1)(b) is intended to ensure that consent authorities prescribe reasonable periods within which responses are to be prepared and provided when additional information is requested.
  2. The provision of additional information will often require careful, and sometimes time consuming, preparation.
  3. To be reasonable , logic demands that the period specified is sufficiently workable or feasible so as to provide enough time for the information to be assembled and then provided to the consent authority.
  4. What period of time will be reasonable will depend on the nature of the proposed development and the varying sophistication or complexity of the analysis required to provide the further information sought.
  5. It follows that a pro forma specification of a specified period within which information must be provided will often be inappropriate.
  6. Consent authorities should carefully tailor their requests under reg 54 after making their own assessment of what time would be necessary, and therefore reasonable, to enable an applicant to respond appropriately.

For more information about this decision, please contact us.