Bundaberg Planning Director survey reveals COVID-19 “state of play”

COVID-19 had resulted in rapid change in planning departments across the State.

Early analysis of interviews conducted by the Institute on 7 and 8 April 2020 with Planning Directors in both metropolitan and regional locations throughout the State shows planning teams are quickly moving to remote working and are cognisant of their critical role in saving industry jobs by getting on with core business on their side of the fence.

Bundaberg Regional Council

Interviewee: Michael Ellery, Group Manager Development

What changes have you made to your department to ensure business continuity?

  • BRC Development Group moved to work from home model. Business continuity plans in place for all Council operations.
  • Fully up from home, including yourself
  • Cut back on face-time face meetings
  • Facilities electronically and telecommunication
  • Cut back on non-essential inspections
  • Essential is engineering, building and plumbing inspection still occurring
  • IT Department worked well. 

What has been the greatest challenge or obstacle you have run into?

  • Main issue is facilitating viewing application on public notification.
  • Council have closed all but one service centres, the one centre that is open has limited facilities to make applications on public notification available for viewing
  • Questions about submitters rights during public notification – some parts of the community impacted in their ability to make submissions.

What is the next change you think you will need to put in place to respond?

  • Commencement of the new council (elected officials) with 4 new councillors
  • Passing the budget and relief package will be a challenge and what can the council do to help local economy in unprecedented times.

How can the Institute be included in the development of your recovery plan?

  • We benefited from the recent correspondence, before COVID-19, with suggestions on next incentives from the Bundaberg Branch Committee
  • This information has been used to inform a draft development recovery package
  • Economic Recovery Group – Local disaster management group – currently investigating a number of initiatives that may put to the council to promote recovery the local economy including the development industry.

Have you implemented any of these proposals?

Focussing resourcing on avoiding delays to plan sealing processes

Yes – Standard timeframe is 10 days or less – maintaining high levels of service.

Investing more resourcing in avoiding delays to existing Development Applications (DAs)

Yes – re-allocated staff to DAs. Strategic Planning Officers/Development Compliance Officer (first two weeks of March) were put to work on development applications. Currently no backlog and managed with available team.

Establishing a Low Risk Team to process

Yes, existing.

Pre-emptively establishing outsourcing arrangements or a pre-qualified suppliers panel for planning, engineering and other relevant professions

No, not necessary.

Relaxing restrictions on on-site work work hours

Council has received requests and processed this to occur. Not many, but some have come through. Condition for operating construction hours contains standard wording “Unless otherwise approved by writing by assessment manager” – very easy to approve when needed.

Providing a new home builder’s grant (like Rockhampton Regional Council)

Bundaberg Branch Committee has already raised and it will be considered by the new council.

Providing immediate offset refunds for LGIP trunk infrastructure

No, council maintains its normal arrangement under Offsets.