Do not pass go: Court finds Council rejection of Development Application cannot be appealed
In a case handed down on 30 April 2020, the NSW Land and Environment Court has decided that the rejection of a development application by a council is not a decision that can be appealed. The judgment, Johnson Property Group Pty Limited v Lake Macquarie City Council (No 2)  NSWLEC 42, has implications for the rejection of DAs by NSW councils and highlights the ability of a Council to effectively veto a DA that involves the carrying out of works within a road reserve without the risk of review by the Court.
Johnson Property Group lodged a DA with the Lake Macquarie City Council for the construction of a cycleway and intersection improvement work in October 2019. Six days later the Council rejected the DA on the sole basis that the DA was not accompanied by the written consent of the (same) Council as the roads authority and owner of the public roads where the intersection work was proposed. Johnson appealed against that decision and sought an order that the Council assess and determine the DA. The Council’s sole contention in the appeal was there was no appeal right. It did not raise any concerns with the merits of the proposal.
Johnson pointed to s.8.7(1) of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 which provides that an applicant who is dissatisfied with the ‘determination’ of an application by a consent authority may appeal to the Court, arguing that such a determination must include a decision to reject a DA. Johnson also relied on an earlier decision of the Court in Parkes v Byron Shire Council (2003) 129 LGERA 156 (Parkes) where it was held that, upon a proper construction of the provisions of the Act and the Regulations as they were then in force, the decision to reject a DA was a decision from which a right of appeal to the Court was available.
The Council argued that on a proper construction of ss 8.6(1) and 8.7(1) of the Act an appeal was limited to a “determination” rather than a “decision”. It was argued that a determination is made pursuant to s.4.16 of the Act to either refuse or approve a DA, whereas the rejection of a DA is a “decision” to reject the DA and operates to treat the DA has never been made (as per cl.51(3) of the Regulation). The Council also argued that Parkes could be distinguished and, in any event, the decision was wrong and should not be followed.
The Court carefully analysed the language used in each of the relevant provisions in Division 8.3 of the EP&A Act, the Division of the Act that provides an appeal right relating to the determination of an application for development consent. The Court held that:
- the concept of the ‘determination’ of a DA is one that is used throughout the Act as being a decision made pursuant to s.4.16 and notified in accordance with the requirements of s.4.18;
- the rejection of a DA is not referred to in any part of the Act, either expressly or by implication, as being a determination of an application for development consent;
- the reference to the rejection of a DA ‘determination’ in cl.51(3) of the Regulations is not a ‘determination’ in the same sense that it has been used in the Act;
- due to amendments to the statutory scheme, the case was sufficiently different to the provisions considered in Parkes and could be distinguished. In any event, the Court decided that the decision in Parkes was not correct and should not be followed.
As a consequence, the Court concluded that there was no ability for Johnston to appeal against the rejection of its DA by the Council.
Johnson’s case is significant because it highlights the ability of a council to unilaterally veto a development proposal where the development involves works within a council road reserve. A council’s ability to reject a DA under the Regulations is limited to the first 14 days after the DA is being received. This case shows, however, that if a DA is rejected on proper grounds within that period, the rejection cannot be made the subject of an appeal. This would avoid the possibility of the Court itself furnishing the landowner’s consent on behalf of the Council pursuant to s.39(2) of the Land and Environment Court Act 1979.
For more information or to discuss a development application, call BAL Lawyers Planning, Environment and Local Government Team on 02 6274 0999.
 Johnson Property Group Pty Limited v Lake Macquarie City Council  NSWLEC 4 [at 20].
 Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000, cl. 51.
 Cf. Sydney City Council v Ipoh Pty Ltd  NSWCA 300 in which the Court held that s.39(2) empowered the Land and Environment Court, on the hearing of an appeal, to give the consent of the owner of land to the making of a development application where the owner is the authority whose refusal of consent is the subject of the appeal.