Event Report: LEC Seminar

Michael Lewarne , 8 May 2019

On 1 May, there was a great turnout at a Sydney seminar on the NSW Land and Environment Court. ACA – NSW/ACT Vice President Michael Lewarne offers a recap.

2 - Chris Evans and Tim Horton

Thanks to speakers Chris Evans and Tim Horton.

You wouldn’t get much argument that navigating the planning system in NSW is a challenging task. With the DA process at some Councils teetering on the edge, it is no wonder that more and more applicants are choosing to take their chances in the NSW Land and Environment Court.

Court can be a confounding process for first timers and even on occasions for experienced practitioners. It was therefore with significant interest that many architects attended the recent seminar on the Land and Environment Court, which featured the insights and wisdom of Chris Shaw of Shaw Reynolds Lawyers, an experienced and highly respected LEC lawyer; and Tim Horton, architect and relatively new but eloquent LEC Commissioner.

The seminar thoughtfully, cogently, if ambitiously covered significant ground from historical background through to detailed advice. At just two hours, the seminar was all too brief. However, advice covered the process, the preparation of documents for court, and taking the stand as an expert witness. The one piece of advice that should be burned into every attendant’s memory is to properly prepare. Another keeper was simply to try and avoid a court hearing if at all reasonably possible. Try to settle at the Section 34 conference or suffer a fraught and expensive journey to court, where any number of new hurdles may be strewn across the path and an outcome in your favour is rarely certain.

One glaringly obvious aspect that came out of this talk was the need for more engagement and communication between the Court and the profession. We need regular talks like these to inform the profession of their obligations and to help them make well-appraised decisions when it comes to any consideration of involving the LEC. If architects then choose such a strategy, it’s important that they’re adequately prepared and skilled to do so.

The ACA – NSW/ACT branch has resolved to hold these talks regularly as well as to open more discussions with the Court, with and on behalf of the profession. This is important information for the entire profession. It is critical that we remain across the implications of the planning system in which we work, as well as building our capability in which to operate within the system. I urge all architects to come along to talks like this one in the future.

The presentation provided good insights into the alternative legal pathway in achieving an outcome for your project. When you consider the cost of time, inconsistency in planning decisions and at times politically motivated decisions that occur within Councils, this legal pathway may lead to a better outcome for some clients.—Justin Loe, Studio JLA and member of ACA – NSW/ACT Committee

The most interesting part of the evening were the little anecdotes Chris and Tim shared of past architect errors when presenting at a conciliation or hearing. It made you realise how easy these errors could be made and how detrimental the small errors can be to your clients’ case. What I took from the seminar was a basic preparation checklist and a better understanding of how the proceedings are performed.—Justine Money, noho architecture