NSW Govt not exercising special planning powers, developers claim

By Angela Dorizas

Western Sydney has been deprived $1.4 billion worth of investment because the NSW Government has refused to give Part 3A status to a number of major projects, a leading industry group has claimed.

Through a freedom of information request the Urban Taskforce, representing developers, obtained internal documents showing that the Department of Planning refused to consider nine major projects since July last year.

Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act empowered the Department of Planning to consider and approve larger projects, circumventing the local government development assessment process.

The Taskforce’s chief executive officer, Aaron Gadiel, said under the new system 14 projects with a total value of $1.8 billion have been refused Part 3A status. Nine were located in Western Sydney and would have amounted to a $1.4 billion investment in the region, he added.

Mr Gadiel said political controversy surrounding the Part 3A provisions had made the government “more reluctant” to bypass councils and deliver its own judgement on major projects.

“This new approach is hitting investment in Western Sydney, more so than any other region in NSW,” Mr Gadiel said.

“It seems the government prematurely knocked each of these Western Sydney projects back, without a proper merit assessment.”

Mr Gadiel said seven projects were valued at more than $100 million and, under planning legislation, should have been accepted as Part 3A proposals and publicly exhibited.

“These decisions were taken behind closed doors – with no information about these refusals being made public,” he said.

A spokesman for the Minister for Planning Tony Kelly said there had been some misunderstanding about application of the $100 million threshold criteria.

“Under the Major Development State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP), the NSW Government is the consent authority for residential, retail or commercial projects worth more than $100 million,” he told Government News.

“If there weren’t restrictions, the NSW Government would have no choice but to assess highly inappropriate projects in unsuitable locations or sensitive environmental lands just because they were worth more than $100 million.”

He said the Department did provide information as to why projects were refused Part 3A status.

“If the project does not satisfy the criteria to be declared a major project, the Department will advise the proponent in writing, including the specific reasons why.”

He added that Western Sydney had the greatest number of Part 3A applications and the greatest number of approvals in the state.

Developers scare-mongering

Shires Association president Bruce Miller said it was just another attempt by developers to push the boundaries on development approvals.

“They continue to try to push the boundaries and that’s the case again here,” Cr Miller told Government News.

“Frankly, if they were able to have complete open slather they would build whatever, wherever and without any rules they needed to abide by.”

Cr Miller said it was entirely appropriate for councils to assess some major projects.

“These applications can always come into councils.

“We do employ expert people to assess these and of course if they’re deemed to be beyond the abilities of councils to assess there are the Joint Regional Planning Panels, which obviously are made up of people with planning experience as well.

“There are other avenues open.”

The Taskforce’s claim that $1.4 billion worth of investment would be lost was “scare-mongering”, Cr Miller said.

“Planning is not just about money,” he said.

“Long term implications for decision making as far as the community and environment are concerned need to be properly considered as part of any process.”

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