Urban Taskforce backs NSW council reform calls

By Paul Hemsley

The head of property development lobby group Urban Taskforce Australia, Chris Johnson, has weighed in behind the O’Farrell government’s push for more planning powers and panels and councils in New South Wales.

Mr Johnson has come out in support of the Independent Local Government Review Panel’s (ILGRP) call for improvements in local government regional collaboration through its proposal to establish Regional Planning Boards and Joint Regional Planning Panels.

The mechanisms are seen by the property industry as a key measure to untangle decades of red tape that developers have for years complained make new projects unnecessarily complex and expensive.

The ILGRP’s report Better, Stronger Local Government – The Case for Sustainable Change, is the second consultation paper in a series of three to that is expected to be presented in a final report to the NSW Minister of Local Government in July 2013.

The review says it will conduct extensive research into council finances, service delivery, local government boundaries and local decision-making models. The government wants the result to be a collection of viable potential solutions to local government issues drawn from community consultation.

Mr Johnson called the Panel’s proposals a “once in a generation” opportunity to rethink the role and structure of local government in NSW.

He said the report from the independent panel raises all the right issues including financial viability in a changing world, tackling infrastructure needs and moves towards regional collaboration.

“No one wants another layer of government in Australia, so a structure, that keeps councils as local bodies while enjoying the efficiencies of regional collaboration, is required,” Mr Johnson said.

He said a regional structuring of a number of councils will work better with the state government.

Mr Johnson argued that pooling skills in areas like planning across a number of councils will lead to “better service to customers”, better career opportunities and better efficiency.

He lent support to another option proposed by the review panel being shared service centres between a number of councils because it allows councils to remain as a local focus for communities.

“It is essential that new entities for regional collaboration relate to the regions defined by other government agencies including strategic planning regions,” Mr Johnson said.

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