Councils demand say on NSW planning overhaul

By Paul Hemsley

The Local Government and Shires Association of NSW (LGSA) has demanded a much closer look at the NSW Government’s planning reforms to ensure that communities get a say in local development applications.

Dubbed A new planning system for NSW and released in July this year, the reforms contain a still undisclosed “Public Participation Charter” that would “require appropriate level of community participation in plan making and development assessment”.

The community participation provisions are a crucial element of the planning reforms because they will set out how input from the public and other stakeholders is taken into account.

The LGSA has cautiously supported this aspect of the reform, but wants to be consulted on the details of the Charter to ensure that it is both legally binding and will apply to local and state governments at all levels of the planning system.

In response to the state government’s Green Paper, the LGSA produced its own submission asking for details on the ‘unknowns’ in the reforms, including the role of local government, checks and balances, environmental and social considerations and rural and regional considerations.

LGSA president, Keith Rhodes said councils, communities and developers are currently operating in a system that’s “extremely complex and in dire need of an overhaul”.

However Mr Rhodes warned that the Green Paper’s recommendation to remove the opportunity for people to have a say on local government developments in the later stages in the planning process was a concern to the LGSA.

“While it would be ideal for a whole-of-community response in the strategic planning process, the reality is that most people don’t take note of planning applications and decisions until it directly affects them,” Mr Rhodes said.

President of the Shires Association of NSW, Ray Donald, said communities must be able to track a development application to fruition and retain the right to object if they believe local area planning guidelines aren’t met.

“The Green Paper also seems to contradict the promise of certainty for all players in the planning system by introducing a multitude of flexible measures to encourage development such as the proposed new ‘enterprise zones’ that have little, if any, development controls,” said Mr Donald.

Mr Donald said the Green Paper’s suggestion of introducing strategic compliance certificates could undermine planning certainty and public confidence in the system by allowing developments to proceed before strategic plans are finalized and proper environmental assessments have been carried out.

“Greater emphasis on social and environmental outcomes should be included in the planning reforms to balance the Green Paper’s strong focus on economic growth.

“While not denying the importance of the economy, the planning system must also ensure our environment is sustainable and the social well-being of NSW communities is assured,” Mr Donald said.

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