Harvey Grennan April 03, 2012
What will happen if councils can no longer display plans and reports on their websites? Photo: Tamara Dean
Usefulness of DA tracking websites at risk following Crown Solicitor's advice.
Residents protesting against developments in their neighbourhood may no longer be able to obtain plans and documents from their council, making it difficult to frame formal objections.
And councils that have spent millions of dollars on electronic development application (DA) tracking systems to make the planning process more open and transparent will no longer be able to post the documents online.
While the public is entitled to access development applications and related documents under state freedom of information laws and the Planning Act, the Crown Solicitor has advised that the federal Copyright Act prevents councils from copying, publishing or distributing copyrighted plans or consultants' reports without permission from the author.
The NSW Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 requires councils to provide copies of DA plans to the public and publish them on their websites and most still do, apparently unaware of the Crown Solicitor's advice. The Department of Planning is also still publishing copyrighted planning documents online.
The Crown Solicitor's advice states documents can only be "viewed" at council premises, not copied, and that they cannot be published on council websites.
The Office of the Information Commissioner told councils of the Crown Solicitor's advice a year ago but most are still publishing DA documents on their websites and copying or emailing documents.
"Copyright was an issue before the GIPA Act of which councils should have been aware but it became a hot topic because of the requirement under the act for councils to publish DAs on their websites," a spokeswoman said.
Most councils do not provide floor plans of residential dwellings but do provide other plans and environmental reports. Resident groups need such documents to challenge their findings.
"If the council cannot provide hard or electronic copies of plans then people wishing to review applications and make submissions would have to sit at the council for a full day or more reading perhaps hundreds of pages of reports and plans," said one planner.
No consultant should have any need to claim copyright and exclude public scrutiny of their work on behalf of developers. And only developers with something to hide would want to avoid scrutiny behind copyright laws.
"The law needs to be changed to require applicants, architects, planners and other experts to sign a copyright waiver when lodging a DA with a council," the planner said.
A spokesman for the department said it was a matter for councils how the advice was interpreted and implemented.