Running an effective and efficient public hearing
Local councils in NSW are currently busy preparing and finalising plans of management for council managed Crown land. This is a new requirement introduced under the Crown Land Management Act 2016. In essence, local councils must now manage Crown land as public land under the Local Government Act 1993.
Need for public hearing for council managed Crown land
As most of the land will be classified as ‘community’ land, a plan of management is required. The process includes assigning an initial category’ to that land which reflects the existing public purpose of the Crown reservation or dedication. Where a council wishes to change the initial category in the plan of management, then a public hearing must be held under the Local Government Act 1993. Public hearings are also required for other circumstances as identified under Part 2 of the Local Government Act 1993.
There are specific requirements for the independence of the person chairing the public hearing and for a report to be prepared about the hearing that must be made available to the public.
After conducting numerous public hearings for local councils from simple to controversial matters, we have developed a robust process to make sure hearings are run effectively and efficiently. Here we share five simple tips from what we have learnt.
1. Provide information and ground rules
First, it can be helpful to prepare and distribute information materials ahead of time to people who wish to attend or make a submission at the hearing. This can explain the purpose, objectives and process of the public hearing as well any applicable ground rules – something that can be particularly handy for controversial matters.
2. Ensure a suitable venue
If possible, the venue should be located within the affected community. If this is not possible, then a neutral location is important. This can often be the Council chambers which are usually well equipped to hold such an event. Any physical venue needs to be COVID safe and attendees must comply with any applicable public health orders. It is also possible to conduct the hearing online using video conferencing technology or to use a hybrid of in-person and online techniques.
3. Give adequate notice
Like all engagement processes, the notice should not be given over any major holidays such as Christmas or the Easter holiday break. It is important to broadly publicise and advertise the hearing, along with the background information that has led to the need for the hearing. Make sure to put information in places where stakeholders go for their community information. Reach out directly to those that may be impacted or have an interest in the land by extending personal invitations to impacted stakeholders.
4. Provide effective meeting facilitation
A public hearing must be well facilitated. Try to make a comfortable setting and avoid situations where individuals dominate the hearing and overwhelm the ability of other voices to be heard. This is an important role of the independent Chair – keeping the hearing on track and enforcing any ground rules for the speakers so that everyone is treated fairly. It is also important to keep any presentation material simple and for this to be explained in plain English.
5. Explain the next steps
At the end of the hearing, it is vital that everyone is told about what will happen next, including how their submission will be taken into account. This includes letting the attendees know the public hearing is an independent process and an independent report will be prepared for council to consider as part of its decision making process. Inform participants that the independent report will be made publicly available.
A well organised and run public hearing ensures that people can voice their opinions about any proposal to change the initial category of the Crown land. It is also important that the opinions offered are heard and recorded by an independent person.
If you need to hold a public hearing as part of implementing the new plan of management requirements for council managed Crown land, please contact us to discuss how we may assist.
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Disclaimer: This publication is provided in good faith and is for general information purposes only. This publication does not constitute legal advice or other professonial advice, and must not be relied upon. You should seek legal or other professional advice in relation to matters arising out of the publication having regard to your circumstances and needs. No warranty or representation regarding the reliability, quality or accuracy of any information in this publication is given by Locale Consulting or the authors of the publication.