How Councils can save resources when processing RTI requests relating to planning and development applications and approvals
The administrative burden of Right to Information requests on QLD Councils may be reduced by first checking and advising RTI applicants what planning and development documents are already publicly available.
Local governments frequently receive right to information access applications seeking development application and development approval documents.
However, our recent experience indicates that access applications relating to planning matters frequently include requests for documents that are already publicly available for inspection and purchase under the Planning Act 2016 and Planning Regulation 2017. In some cases, the relevant documents may already be available for download on the Council's website.
Section 264 of the Planning Act has the effect that the Planning Regulation may prescribe that certain documents be kept available for access by the public.
Schedule 22 of the Planning Regulation prescribes many different types of planning documents that councils must (either as a local government or assessment manager/referral agency for a development application) keep available for inspection or purchase, or upload to its website.
Some types of planning documents are only required to be kept publicly available by councils for a particular time period, whereas other documents are required to be kept available for access indefinitely.
The Right to Information Act 2009 recognises the potential disadvantages and burdens on agency resources posed by applications which seek documents that are publicly accessible by other administrative means. In this respect, sections 47(3)(f) and 53(a) of the Right to Information Act relevantly provide that one of the grounds upon which access may be refused to a document is if:
(a) the applicant can reasonably access the document under another Act, or under arrangements made by an agency, whether or not the access is subject to a fee or charge.
Against this background, we recommend that right to information decision-makers consider taking the following initial steps in processing access applications in this context:
- Consider whether some or all of the information requested by the access application is publicly available under Schedule 22 of the Planning Regulation 2017 (for example, on the Council's website);
- Where all of the documents requested by the application are publicly available, consider giving the applicant administrative access to the information thereby paving the way for the applicant to consider withdrawing their application under the Right to Information Act; and
- If only some of the documents requested by the access application are publicly available, consider writing to the applicant providing administrative access to the publicly available information, with a view to the application subsequently being narrowed so that it only extends to information which is not already publicly available.