Cessnock stripped of its planning powers

By Rob O'Brien

The NSW Government has stripped Cessnock City Council of its planning powers after ongoing concerns to delays in development applications.

An independent expert panel has been appointed to undertake the planning functions of the council, the NSW Minister for Planning, Tony Kelly, said.

The appointment follows a request in May for the council to show why its planning powers should not be removed due to a history of delays in dealing with rezonings and development applications.

“Based on 2009/10 figures, Cessnock is again looking set to be the slowest of all Lower Hunter councils in processing DAs,” the minister said.

“Cessnock has a very important role to play in the future growth and prosperity of the Lower Hunter and it’s essential that is properly planned for and new proposals are dealt with in a timely manner so investment continues to flow into the region.

Mr Kelly said the Department of Planning had given careful consideration to the council’s response, but retained serious concerns about its ability to exercise its planning role.

“Council was asked to show it is on track to deliver the kind of efficient planning Cessnock needs and deserves, and having considered its response the Department remains unconvinced,” he said.

“Its concerns were also supported by a large number of complaints about council’s planning performance. In reviewing council’s performance in recent years, a constant theme of unexplained delays and unresolved issues became very clear."

Chief executive of the Urban Taskforce, Aaron Gadiel, said the decision should encourage better performance by other local councils.

“Cessnock City Council takes an average of nine months to process job creating development applications valued at more than $5 million,” he said.

Mr Gadiel said that in the 12 months to June, rents for Cessnock’s two bedroom homes jumped by 17 per cent, with rents for three bedroom homes up 9 per cent.

“Local rents are increasing at between three and five times the rate of inflation. That’s too much for Cessnock families to bear, and that’s why the councils should have been working harder to boost the local supply of housing.

“If Cessnock Council can’t exercise its planning powers in a timely, efficient, way, it’s only right that the community benefits from the assistance of independent experts.”

The three-member panel has been appointed for a period of five years with its operations to be reviewed after two.

The panel will exercise the following roles of the council: the assessment and determination of development applications with a value of more than $1 million; the assessment and determination of development applications with a value of more than $100,000 which are still undetermined 90 days after being lodged; and, the amending of local environmental plans (LEPs) – i.e. assessing and determining rezoning proposals.

The council’s new council-wide LEP will remain with the council, although the minister has asked the Department of Planning to closely monitor its progress.

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