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Local Development Assessment in NSW

Local Development Assessment in NSW

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No. 08/2004 by Stewart Smith
Local development is development for which a local council is the consent authority. For councils, development applications for housing and associated structures such as pools and garages makes up a large proportion of their development assessment work. However, it has been argued that the development approval process in NSW has been characterised by: a focus on process (rather than outcome); inconsistent policies; varying procedures; as well as a pervading sense of frustration and conflict. In response to this, on 3 July 2003, the Government announced that a taskforce was to be established to investigate and report on the development assessment and decision making process for local development. This paper looks at the outcomes of the taskforce review, the responses to the taskforce by various interest groups, and concludes by reviewing what other states and the Commonwealth are doing in the development assessment field.

The Taskforce review considered that a local development approval process is required which balances the rights of a landholder to be able to build a house to maximise enjoyment of their block whilst also protecting certain minimum rights of adjoining neighbours. According to the Taskforce, the solution lies in the development of appropriate housing standards against which houses are required to comply. It was considered that housing standards are critical to the management of approval times and approval processes as they provide the basis against which developments can be assessed and the process measured. Housing standards also define the community’s expectations about what owners can build on their blocks of land and what neighbours can expect to be built next to them. This approach, combined with an increased focus on complying development and private certification, will, the Taskforce argues, result in a faster local development assessment process. This approach was not supported by the Local Government and Shires Association nor conservation groups, but had the broad backing of the Property Council of Australia and architect groups.

The Development Assessment Forum is a national body with representatives from the three spheres of government and the development industry. It was formed in 1998 in an attempt to reach agreement on ways to streamline the development approval process. The Forum engaged consultants to devise a new development assessment approach. The result is a system characterised by: the separation of roles - elected councillors to be responsible for the development of planning policies and independent bodies to be responsible for assessing applications against these policies; and development applications assessed against objective tests and rules – or standards in the NSW Taskforce terminology. Already, South Australia has independent development assessment panels to replace development consent by elected representatives.

From the analysis of the work of the Development Assessment Forum and legislative developments in other States, it is apparent that issues like complying development and private certification are firmly entrenched in the development assessment process, and likely to play a greater role in the future. This is clearly a concern to local government and the environment movement, but strongly supported by the development industry.