Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

NSW planning reforms: the Green Paper and other developments

NSW planning reforms: the Green Paper and other developments

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 07/2012 by Daniel Montoya, Nathan Wales and Gareth Griffith

This paper canvasses the ongoing NSW planning system reforms. Foreshadowed by the NSW Coalition prior to the 2011 election, the reforms involve wholesale change to the planning system including the development of a new Planning Act. Reviewed in the paper are divergent comments from selected stakeholders on four key areas of the proposed reforms; these comments are too complex and extensive to be encapsulated in this summary. While a broad cross-section of stakeholders was selected, this paper does not purport to represent all stakeholder positions on the Green Paper. The O'Farrell Government plans to release a White Paper and Exposure Bill in due course.

The Green Paper

In July 2012, the NSW Government released A New Planning System for NSW - Green Paper. This was in response to an Independent Review of the NSW Planning System published in May 2012. The Green Paper sets out a blueprint for establishing a simple, strategic and flexible performance-based planning system. Four fundamental reforms are proposed: effective community participation in strategic planning; a shift to evidence based strategic planning in terms of planning effort; streamlined development assessment; and integration of planning for infrastructure with strategic planning of land use. Encompassing these four reforms is the proposal to introduce substantial operational and cultural changes for planning practitioners at all levels. [2.0]

Planning System Objectives

It is unclear from the Green Paper how the new planning system and planning legislation will balance social, environmental and economic objectives. The Green Paper states that the achievement of sustainable development will remain the main objective of the new Planning Act. However, the Green Paper makes no reference to ecologically sustainable development (ESD), a key objective in the current Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. Further, at other points in the Paper the emphasis appears to be on economic growth and development.

The new Planning Act is proposed to be an 'enabling' Act which establishes a broad framework for the planning system. Detailed development controls will not be included in the Act, but covered in delegated instruments, guidance and good practice advisory notes. [3.0]

Strategic Community Participation

The Green Paper aims to establish community and public interest at the centre of the new planning system. Key to this is increased participation at the strategic planning stage. The NSW Government proposes to include statutory requirements for the engagement of communities early in the strategic planning process.

The corollary of this proposal is reduced community consultation at the development assessment stage. This is based on the argument that increased community participation in strategic planning will reduce the need for community participation in development assessment. Strategic community participation will therefore serve two functions: empowering the community in the decision making process; and streamlining the development assessment process. [4.0]

Strategic Planning

Five reforms are proposed to the strategic planning process in order to remove complexity and duplication in the planning system. The first four will establish a hierarchy of plans that establish a clear strategic context for decisions, and through which a clear line of sight can be drawn from the State level policy through to local land use controls. The four proposed plans are as follows: NSW Planning Policies; Regional Growth Plans; Subregional Delivery Plans; and Local Land Use Plans. Each plan will replace one or more plans in the current planning system.

The fifth reform will create three new zones: the Enterprise Zone; the Future Urban Release Area Zone; and the Suburban Character Zone. Each zone is intended to address a key constraint in current zone planning. [5.0]

Depoliticised Decision Making and Strategic Compliance

Six reforms are proposed to development assessment and compliance. Two of these reforms are particularly significant: depoliticising decision making; and strategic compliance.

The Green Paper argues that, together with a new focus on strategic community participation, depoliticised decision making will restore public confidence in the planning system and merit based decision making. It therefore proposes to ensure that development approvals are based on non-biased, objective and independent decisions. To this end, it advocates the removal of a role for local councillors in development assessment decision making in favour of the establishment of independent expert panels.

The idea of strategic compliance translates the earlier focus on strategic community participation and strategic planning across to the development assessment stage. Strategic compliance is intended to address the perception that development assessment, as it currently operates, is unwieldy, slow, costly and complex. The Green Paper proposes that any development proposal which conforms to the parameters set out in a strategic plan should be allowed to proceed. Where Subregional Delivery Plans are incomplete, it is proposed that proponents with a strategy consistent development proposal will be able to access a Strategic Compliance Certificate. Once Subregional Delivery Plans are in place, three development assessment streams will operate: compliant development; partially compliant development; and non-compliant development. [6.0]

The Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment Bill 2012

The Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment Bill 2012 was introduced in the Legislative Assembly on 24 October 2012 and passed without amendment on the same day. It sets out a number of amendments, including: clarifying the purpose, status and content of Development Control Plans, the regulation of residential development on bush fire prone land, and the assessment of accredited certifiers. While pre-emptive of the planning reform process, the amendments are in keeping with the general direction set in the Green Paper. Opinion on the amendments has been divided, particularly with regard to the proposed reform of Development Control Plans. For some, these Plans have become overly detailed and inflexible, varying from place to place and hindering development, whereas for others the detail they provide form the essential components of a planning process informed by local needs. [7.0]