By Julian Bajkowski
Inner Sydney’s Leichhardt Council has lost a key bid to secure backing from other New South Wales councils to try and overturn a state legislative amendments it claims will let councillors vote on planning and development decisions in which they hold a direct financial interest.
According to a record of decisions released by the New South Wales Local Government Association from its annual conference in Dubbo last week, the proposal to lobby for a ban on elected officials backing planning decisions from which they might stand to profit was voted down by delegates of the peak body.
The loss of the motion raises the stakes in an increasingly bitter showdown between inner urban Sydney councils and the O’Farrell government over a state election promises that planning powers would largely be returned to local governments and give communities a bigger say over the interests of property developers.
Leichhardt had wanted the LGSA to write “to the Minister for Local Government opposing the NSW Government’s recent amendment to the Local Government Act which allows for Councillors to vote on changes to Council's Local Environment Plans (LEPs) and Development Control Plans (DCPs) that effect the whole or a significant part of Council's area, even where councillors have a direct pecuniary interest in the outcome.”
“Councillors who have a direct pecuniary interest in any changes to the LEP or DCPs that effect the whole or a significant part of Council's area, being an interest that extends beyond their current place of residence, should step aside and take no part in that planning matter,” the Council’s motion said.
Leichhardt’s notes to its motion say that amendments to section 451 of the Local Government Act overturn previous protections that prevented “councillors from voting at a council meeting where they have a pecuniary interest, unless they obtain an exemption from the Local Government Minister.”
It goes on to argue that interested councillors can now vote on planning proposals “including changes to local environment plans, development control plans and other broad planning matters” that have an impact on “land that they may own”.
“It should be a fundamental principle at any level of government that elected officials do not vote to enrich themselves,” the notes to Leichhardt’s motion say.
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