Privacy Requirements Set to Add Significant Complexity for Permit Applicants

In early 2021 the Planning & Environment Act (1984) was amended to enshrine the previously temporary measures, put into place as part of the COVID 19 response, that allow documents associated with planning matters to be made available online.  The P&E Act has always required the relevant authority to make certain documents available, often at municipal offices, for public inspection. These most recent changes formalise the option of making such documents available ‘online’, in an electronic format.

The change is considered a positive step that will facilitate the efficient use of online systems to continue to expediate the processing of planning matters. With a significant number of Victorian Councils now moving to (or having already moved to) electronic lodgement and processing systems for planning permit applications, the change has generally been welcomed by all.

However, prohibitions restricting the publishing of ‘personal information’ online are set to cause headaches for permit applicants and Councils alike.  As Councils are forced to grapple with these privacy obligations, we expect that a significant burden associated with these requirements is likely to fall at the feet of permit applicants.

The definition of personal information includes: “…information or an opinion…, that is recorded in any form and whether true or not, about an individual whose identity is apparent, or can reasonably be ascertained, from the information or opinion…”.

Under this definition, the following information is unlikely to be published online, without the expressed consent of the individual involved:

  • Name and details of a planning permit applicant
  • The proprietor’s details from the registered search statement (title)
  • The names and contact details of the architect or building designer.
  • Details of any third-party consultants including, arborists, traffic engineers, acoustic consultants etc…
  • Names and addresses of any objecting parties

Over the past few months our office has been asked, by some Councils, to provide two sets of all documents accompanying our planning permit applications. The second set has been required to have all personally identifiable information redacted, so that it can be published online.   We are hopeful that the requirement to provide a redacted duplicate of all material does not become the norm and recommend that regular permit applicants consider putting a process in place that captures the ‘consent’ of all relevant individuals involved in their applications, to publish their personally identifiable information online.

Our office has also received copies of objections, from Council, that have had the names and addresses of the objectors redacted. One consequence of such personal information being removed is that permit applicants may find it increasingly difficult to engage with objecting parties or determine the merits and standing of any objector’s submissions.

Regular permit applicants should review the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning’s new practice note for more details: PPN74-making-planning-documents-avaliable-to-the-public.pdf


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