NSW Govt to cover planning panel costs

By Angela Dorizas

The New South Wales Government has allocated $2.4 million in the 2009-10 State budget to establish, operate and administer the newly announced Joint Regional Planning Panels (JRPP).

The funding boost was announced by Planning Minister, Kristina Keneally, at the annual conference of the Shires Association of NSW, held in Sydney on Wednesday.

“As you know, the legislation provides that the Department of Planning can recover costs, expenses and administration of a Regional Panel from councils,” Keneally told conference delegates.

“Notwithstanding this, I can announce today that I have determined that the Department of Planning is to cover all costs associated with the administration of the JRPPs as well as the costs of the three State members.

“Now there is no denying that councils have expressed some concerns about the panels. That said, what I am doing today is assuring councils that they will not have to foot the bill.”

Keneally said the $2.4 million in funding would cover costs associated with the establishment, operation and administration of the panels, as well as employment costs for three state members.

“Councils will continue to receive Development Application fees and will be responsible for the costs of their two members on the panel, as well as the usual council notification and assessment process,” she said.

“I hope that, by announcing this today, ahead of the State budget, will assist councils to finalise their own budgets.”

The Joint Regional Planning Panels will come into operation by mid-2009. They will be composed of three state government appointed members and two council appointed members from the local government area.

The role of the JRPP is to consider residential, retail, tourism, mixed use and commercial development projects with capital investment value of $10 million or more. For council, community or ecotourism infrastructure development a $5 million threshold will apply.

“I have established these threshold changes taking into consideration the recommendations of the ICAC in relation to its inquiries into Wollongong Council,” Keneally said.

She said local communities would have the opportunity to lodge submissions about the relevant developments and were free to attend JRPP meetings.

“JRPPs will provide stronger decision-making through greater expertise and they will bring a regional focus on the determination of regional developments.”

“I look forward to councils’ cooperation in progressing this important initiative.”

The Minister responded to a number of other issues and concerns raised by the Shires Association, announcing:

  • the establishment of a JRPP in the Western Region, as requested by local government;
  • the distribution of a JRPP code of conduct, modelled on the Local Government Code of Conduct, and procedures guidelines, by the end of the week;
  • the Department of Planning’s provision of training for state and council members of the JRPP; and
  • communication and education sessions for councils across all six regions of NSW, commencing next week.

The announcements were cautiously welcomed by the Local Government and Shires Associations (LGSA).

Shires Association President Bruce Miller said the Minister’s response to local government concerns was seemingly genuine.

“While we strongly oppose the erosion of local planning input that the Panels represent, the Minister had addressed a number of key concerns about how the panels will operate,” Cr Miller said.

“However, we are calling on the Minister to reconsider the start date of the Panels, due to come into effect on 1 July, as there are still outstanding issues to be addressed.”

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