President's Comment - Winds of change across local government in New South Wales

President’s Comment

In each edition we feature the views of a Local Government Association president. Our October issue features a comment from Councillor Keith Rhoades, President of the Local Government Association of New South Wales.

The winds of change are blowing across the local government landscape in NSW, with a multitude of reviews underway, including a thorough overhaul of the State’s planning system.

Since my last LG Focus message, the review of the NSW planning framework has certainly progressed, with the State Government releasing and asking for comment on the NSW Planning System Review - Green Paper. The Department of Planning and Infrastructure heralded this paper as a bold step, “placing people and their choices at the heart of planning decisions about their future.”

In responding via a submission to the recommendations of the Green Paper, the Local Government and Shires Associations of NSW (LGSA) have cautiously welcomed the reforms envisaged by the government, although many of the proposed changes need further thought and greater detail before NSW local government can fully assess how the new planning framework will work in practice.

What everyone agrees upon – councils, communities, business and developers – is the dire need to overhaul a planning system that has become extremely complex and cumbersome due to a plethora of patch jobs and amendments over more than 30 years. The challenge is to create a planning framework that is streamlined and consultative, and balances the need for economic growth with environmental and social outcomes.

At the heart of these proposed reforms is the government’s desire for councils to engage communities in the strategic planning process at a local, sub-regional and regional level. The LGSA strongly support encouraging greater community participation in strategic planning; councils already do this at the local level.

Our concern is with the Green Paper’s recommendation to remove the option for people to have a say on local developments at later stages in the planning process. While it would be ideal to receive a whole-of-community response in the strategic planning process, the reality is that many people don’t take note of the strategic plans until a development proposal directly affects them. It is difficult for people to visualise the abstract and distant.

 A Public Participation Charter, as proposed in the Green Paper, might be one way of addressing consultation issues, although no details of what the charter would entail have been released or whether it will be legally binding.

To ensure transparency and public confidence in the reforms, checks and balances within the planning system are necessary. Communities must be able to track a Development Application (DA) to fruition and retain the right to object if they feel that the DA does comply with agreed local area plans.

While the NSW Government promised more certainty for all players involved in the planning system, the suggested reforms seem to contradict this statement by introducing a multitude of flexible measures to encourage development such as the proposed new ‘enterprise zones’ that would have few, if any, development controls.

Furthermore, the Green Paper recommends introducing strategic compliance certificates, which could allow developments to proceed before strategic plans are finalised and proper environmental assessments have been carried out, again undermining planning certainty and public confidence in the system. This includes the confidence of property investors, homebuyers, lenders, developers and the general community. 

Despite our concerns over certain elements and recommendations in the NSW Planning System Review - Green Paper, the LGSA welcomes the State Government’s commitment to this necessary review of the NSW planning legislation. We will continue to provide feedback to ensure the people of NSW have an efficient, streamlined planning framework that is also inclusive and allows for the public to have a voice in local planning matters.

The LGSA now await the release of the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructures White Paper, which will impart greater detail on the transformative reforms, as well as provide a road map as to how they will be implemented.