NSW councils lose development powers

NSW councils lose development powers

17 August, 2017

Councils in Sydney and Wollongong will be stripped of the power to consider development applications worth $5 million or more under new rules governing the use of Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels (IHAPs), reports The Sydney Morning Herald.

Currently, the panels are used by Wollongong council and 15 Sydney metropolitan councils on a voluntary basis.

The new legislation prohibits developers, real estate agents, and serving councillors from sitting on any local planning panel. Decisions will also be made publicly available.

Members of the local planning panels will be scrutinised by ICAC, as are MPs and councillors.

The NSW government said the measures will guard against the potential for corruption during the planning approval process.

“This is a fantastic outcome for ratepayers as IHAP bring transparency, integrity and a high degree of probity to the development application (DA) assessment process,” the Minister for Planning and Housing Anthony Roberts told Government News.

“These panels, which will consider applications valued at between $5 million and $30 million as well as a range of high-risk development types, will give communities and ratepayers greater certainty about planning decisions,” he said.

“Most importantly, local councils will be able to focus on preparing the strategic plans and development controls that will identify the range and location of development types for their local area” said Mr Roberts.

Projects worth over $30 million will be dealt with by the regional Sydney Planning Panels, whose threshold is currently $20 million.

Under the new rules, IHAPs will comprise three independent expert members and a person from the local community, to provide local perspective.

The new arrangements provoked a mixed response from councils and developers.

“This is a naked power grab by the NSW Government,” said Liverpool Mayor Wendy Waller, “taking the decision-making authority to shape how our communities grow and develop away from elected representatives.”

Wollondilly Shire Council issued a scathing statement calling out Mr Roberts for implying “inappropriate” relationships between councils and developers, and suggesting “that councils are incapable of being transparent and accountable when assessing DAs of significant value,” reports The Urban Developer.

In contrast, the Urban Taskforce, which represents property developers, applauded the announcement.

“Independent planning panels will make the planning process much more efficient … and will ensure a level playing field for everyone.,” said Urban Taskforce CEO Chris Johnson.

“The role of the elected councillors is in setting the strategic planning framework and the assessment of compliance with the framework is best undertaken by experts in the field.”

“Having a central pool of experts will also ensure effective use of resources and that all panel members have up to date knowledge of the planning rules. Having one member of the four-person panel from the local area ensures an understanding of local issues,” he said.

Property Council of Australia NSW deputy executive director Cheryl Thomas said the announcement was “good news for both the community and for industry because it means the politics will be taken out of planning—experts will make the decisions on development, not local politicians”.

Local councils will still process most applications for individual houses or alterations to existing houses.