By Paul Hemsley
New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell has yielded, at least in part, to demands from councils that he keep his key election promise to return planning control to local governments after Minister for Planning Brad Hazzard indicated the Macquarie Street may now compromise over electorally unpopular new planning legislation.
The Premier’s concession over proposed changes to the state’s planning laws, which would otherwise strip councils of their existing rights of veto over development proposals, defuses a potentially damaging row with Local Government NSW (LGNSW) which had warned of a grass roots revolt against the changes.
The potent threat that the O’Farrell government faced from councils was that bigger development applications negotiated through the Joint Regional Planning Panel and typically over $20 million might be hit by direct action where angry councils mounted a go-slow.
The hardball tactics appear to have worked after Mr Hazzard met with LGNSW Joint Presidents Keith Rhoades and Ray Donald to discuss potential changes to the government’s new legislation.
So far the olive branch of an agreement by Mr Hazzard’s to consider changes to new planning legislation appears to be working after LGNSW called the move a “step in the right direction”.
Mr Rhoades’ group was most keen about the state government’s agreement to consider axing so called code assessable developments in existing low density suburbs and limiting their use to growth areas and “Urban Activation Precincts”.
The potential change to the legislation was a “big win” for local government, Mr Rhoades said, adding that if code assessable were implemented as previously proposed, there would be a “massive risk” that the “character of suburbs” would dramatically change without providing residents the opportunity to have their say.
“There are obviously other areas of the proposed legislation that we still disagree on, but the Minister is taking LGNSW’s concerns seriously, and that is extremely positive,” Mr Rhoades said.
Mr Hazzard proposed other concessions including strengthening the “triple bottom line” (economic, social and environmental), which LGNSW claims would restore the balance to decision making; and extending the proposed limit on holding infrastructure contributions from three to five years, with provision for applying for an extension.
These concessions from the state government have significantly calmed the mood after LGNSW’s earlier warning in September 2013 that it could instigate “a council-led direct action campaign”, as Mr Donald has now said that it is “important that local and state government maintain a strong relationship”.
But Mr Hazzard will have the opportunity to quell the hostility emanating from NSW councils over the government’s new planning legislation by presenting these amendments at the upcoming LGNSW Conference in Sydney between 1st and 3rd October, which is expected to give comfort to the many conference delegates attending.
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