War of words breaks out as councils accused of slowing housing pipeline

NSW councils have angrily rejected suggestions they are contributing to the state’s housing crisis by asking applicants to withdraw DAs so they can cut time spent assessing them.

Ron Hoenig

The state government last week released new guidelines for councils designed to ramp up efforts to get development applications processed, citing figures indicating more than 9,000 DA have been withdrawn since July 2021, averaging 70 withdrawals per council.

Fifteen councils had more than 200 withdrawals, local government minister Ron Hoenig said.

Mr Hoenig said he was concerned there may be cases of councils asking applicants to withdraw applications rather than assessing them to cut DA processing time.

“It’s beyond belief that more than 9,000 DAs have been withdrawn since July 2021 and it’s definitely not acceptable in the middle of a housing crisis,” the minister said.

“Council staff should make every effort to resolve issues before asking applicants to withdraw DAs, which can ultimately lead to less housing stock.

“We need to increase our housing supply in NSW, and we need to act now to speed up the DA process.

“Councils have a critical role in the planning process and we need them to work with us to get more people into homes sooner across our state.”

Pressure to speed assessments

Mr Hoenig said the new guidelines will ensure the DA process isn’t delaying the pipeline of housing projects across NSW.

Under the guidelines, councils will be required to accelerate DA assessment timeframes and not request unnecessary information or unnecessarily ask applicants to withdraw DA proposals.

They also require councils to direct adequate resources to their planning and assessment teams to fast-track assessments.

The government has warned councils they will be monitored on how well they are meeting the expectations outlined in the guidelines.

Stop the blame game, LGNSW says

But the state’s peak body for local government said the state government should look in its own backyard, including the end-to-end performance of the NSW planning system, before pointing the finger at councils.

Darriea Turley

The state’s housing crisis is a complex issue, LGNSW President Darriea Turley says.

“To play the blame game with councils in the firing line is simplistic and disingenuous,” Cr Turley said.

“In fact, the NSW Government’s own official housing supply report points to ‘shortages of construction material and labour, rising interest rates, and falling housing prices’ as the drivers of the decline in residential building approvals.”

She says in 2022/23 councils approved more than 85,000 dwellings and state targets for coucil-led planning were met.

Cr Turley said in the past two financial years only 6.19 per cent of the 146,138 DAs received by councils were withdrawn.

And while 103,460 DAs were determined, only 38,419 construction certificates and 70,886 occupation certificates were lodged.

“The government’s own figures show councils are approving 97 per cent of all DAs and that we are very much playing our part in rezonings and housing approvals – the gap that needs to be fixed is in delivery,” she said.

She also slammed the state government for targeting council planning processes without consulting the local government sector.

“The crisis will only be solved with the cooperation of all three spheres of government rather than finger pointing,” Cr Turley said.

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3 thoughts on “War of words breaks out as councils accused of slowing housing pipeline

  1. Finally some journalism that presents the side of local government in this debate. All of the mainstream media articles I have seen only support State government’s subjective and whistle blowing comments.

  2. The council I work for only asks clients to withdraw if they have not provided requested information or answered questions in over a year. The biggest issues with our delayed DA assessment timeframes is the vast amount of change (increase) in regulations and conditions of consent that have been introduced by NSW Planning in the past five years, the frustration of dealing with the horribly glitchy and user-unfriendly Portal that has been forced upon councils and their customers, the much better pay that planners get if they work for themselves or State government which has meant it’s really hard to get enough staff to assess the DAs that keep coming in, and the biggest elephant in the room – the fact that people who were already planning to build or extend were offered a nice bonus of $25,000 if they lodged their plans and got building by a certain date. Of course, that meant a rush on DAs, demand for building materials outstripping supply, and increases in building costs that the $25,000 bonus doesn’t go very far towards covering. We’re still playing catchup from that brilliant decision, with less staff and more regulation to deal with. It would be nice if NSW Planning looked at the log in their own eye first.

    1. I think you nailed every issue in your thoughtful response. Willy Wonka has a better handle on reality (and probably the planning system!) than any state officials.

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