Planning changes to ease burdens

In a bid to ease the population’s post-Ivan rebuilding burden, Government has changed the Planning Law and the Building Code.

Among the key changes, planning permission can be extended beyond its original 12-month deadline for up to an additional six months where necessary after a national disaster and the CPA can grant a 50% reduction in Infrastructure Fees. Also, the Building Code now more specifically defines what constitutes an unsafe structure and the provisions for their restoration.

The Minister responsible for Planning, Communications, District Administration and Information Technology Ms Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, presented bills containing the amendments to the law and the proposed changes to the Building Code to the Legislative Assembly on 10 February. The bill was passed by the Assembly 11 February and will come into law once the Governor assents to it. The changes to the Building Code are now in effect.

In her address to the Legislative Assembly Ms O’Connor-Connolly said: ‘The purpose of this legislation is to help ensure that recovery efforts are not made more onerous by planning requirements,’ adding, ‘I am extremely grateful to the Planning Department and Central Planning Authority. Not only was the Planning Department staff on the ground within two days of Ivan’s passing and assisting with restoration of electricity, but they were also meeting with the CPA to develop policy advice for Cabinet for recovery-oriented legislation. The proposed Bill is the result of those efforts, which met with Cabinet’s approval without hesitation.’

The minister found that certain planning requirements needed to be relaxed including:

(a) Notification requirements since they slow down the construction of temporary accommodations (commercial, industrial and residential), delaying recovery efforts;

(b) Infrastructure fees which pose a hardship to already overburdened homeowners (as for pre-Ivan homes that were uninsured, but damaged/destroyed during the storm, and for those wishing to construct temporary buildings to assist in recovery efforts

(c) The one-year approval timeline for applicants holding valid building permits prior to Hurricane Ivan (or any other natural disaster).

Main points of the new provisions:

(1) Define the term ‘national disaster’ to include hurricane, fire, flood, earthquake or any other calamity.

(2) Defines ‘recovery period’ to indicate the length of time that HE the Governor would order that these provisions would apply. In the case of Hurricane Ivan the recovery period has extended through to 30 June 2005.

(3) Amend law to enable the Central Planning Authority to extend planning permission beyond one year, for up to an additional six months, when necessary, after a national disaster.

(4) Enable the CPA to grant a 50 per cent reduction in Infrastructure Fees, in any case where it deems the development necessary for the purpose of the restoration following a national disaster.

(5) Vary the composition of the Planning Appeals Tribunal and amend the definition of the term ‘development.’

Also passed were some minor amendments to the Building Code Regulations which more specifically define what constitutes an unsafe structure; the manner in which building officials will record and give notice to property owners of an unsafe structure; and provisions for restoration of damaged structures.

‘I have personally toured areas hardest hit by the hurricane and I can safely say that regardless of such devastation, a man’s home still is his castle. These revisions cover options to remedy situations which will encourage restoration and rebuilding over demolition,’ she said.