Councils slam regional planning panels

By Angela Dorizas

Local government has criticised the New South Wales Government’s proposed joint regional planning panels as an attempt to “alienate” local communities from decision making.

Under a draft plan prepared by the NSW Department of Planning the state will be divided into six regions, each provided with its own panel to approve or reject major projects.

The five-member panels will include two council representatives. The three other positions, including the chairperson, will be appointed by the Planning Minister Kristina Keneally.

Local councils are outraged over the make-up of the joint panels.

The Local Government Association of NSW president Cr Genia McCaffery said with only two local members on the panel, local communities will have “a minority voice from the outset”.

“It’s pretty obvious that people across NSW are going to feel cut off from local planning decisions – and rightly so,” Cr McCaffery told GovernmentNews.

“They’ll have no say in who is appointed to the panel and no chance to hold the state appointed representatives accountable through an election.”

“Meanwhile local representatives are likely to wear the brunt of the community’s frustration about unpopular decision, whether or not they support them.”

Cr McCaffery said the panels were more likely to cause “distrust and friction”, rather than transparency and accountability.

“The Minister’s argument that a joint regional planning panel will depoliticise the development process and increase transparency is naïve at best – members will be open to local pressures, they just won’t be accountable to the local community,” she said.

Uncertainty remains over how the panels will be funded, as the State Government has not yet made a firm commitment to covering costs.

“It will probably be local councils and their communities who’ll have to pick up the tab for things like members’ fees, travelling expenses, administration, let alone defending the panel’s decisions if they are appealed,” Cr McCaffery said.

“There are better ways to achieve a transparent, accountable and efficient development assessment process for NSW.”

She said independent hearing and assessment panels (IHAP) conducted “proper hearings” on complex development applications and ensured that all voices were heard.

“They provide a report and recommendation to council, which then makes the decision, which lessens the risk of undue influence on the panel and places the responsibility for development decisions back on the council – who are accountable to their community.”

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