Return of planning powers in NSW

The decision by the NSW Government to return over 60 developments to Local Governments has been welcomed by Local Government Associations, councils and planners. The proposed changes have also sparked calls for a more extensive reform of the planning process.

NSW Local Government Minister Brad Hazzard argued that far too many projects had been deemed to be of State significance under Part 3A of the Planning Act, allowing them to bypass Local Government oversight. Minister Hazzard believes that a new set of qualifying criteria and planning approval procedures is needed for projects claiming State significance.

The Government is expected to retain control of the bulk of backlogged cases dealt with by an independent body established by the previous ALP Government, the Planning Assessment Commission.

The Local Government and Shires Associations of NSW (LGSA) have said the Government announcement is a promising start. Local Government Association President Keith Rhoades said the LGSA has campaigned hard on the importance of returning local planning powers to local communities for many years.

"NSW councils have lobbied the previous State Government for many years to remove residential, commercial, retail and coastal projects from the Part 3A assessment system," he said.

"We're very pleased that the new Government has handed a number of these projects over to councils for assessment, as promised ahead of the election. Our goal has been to get planning decisions back closer to the community and we're pleased that the Premier continues to support us on this topic and has again stayed true to his word and taken another step towards reaching that goal."

During the recent election, the LGSA called for the balance to be restored for land use planning - which included calling for a major review and rewrite of the Environment Planning and Assessment Act (NSW) 1979, repeal Part 3A and similar provisions such as the Major Projects SEPP (State Environmental Planning Policy) and for Joint Regional Planning Panels to be abolished.

Individual Local Governments in NSW have also endorsed the decision with Randwick Mayor Murray Matson welcoming the return of planning powers to Local Government.

"News that major development proposals for the Coogee Bay Hotel and Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park will be returned to Randwick Council for determination is very welcome," he said.

The move has renewed calls for NSW planning legislation to be extensively rewritten - including going back to separate development and building applications,

Former President of the Planning Institute of NSW and Planner David Broyd in his paper, "Where to Planning?," has called for a new approach to planning in the State.

"The Environmental Planning and Assessment Act was fine for its day when introduced in 1979 but is now outdated and incompatible with today's social, economic and environmental context of planning,'' he said. "The content of multiple pieces of legislation needs to be integrated into a single Act to clarify the decision making responsibilities between State and Local Government.''