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Proposed Changes to Environmental Planning in NSW

Proposed Changes to Environmental Planning 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. 10/2001 by Stewart Smith

The Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act ) is the main vehicle for planning in NSW. The EP&A Act provides a comprehensive three tier planning scheme, allowing for state, regional and local plans, as well as outlining the development assessment process. Whilst the Act attracted considerable support upon its introduction, nearly twenty years of amendments, case law and the proliferation of other natural resource legislation has meant that the natural resource management regime in NSW is, to say the least, complex.

In mid 1998 consultations began on the review process for updating the method of environmental planning under the Act. After the release of a Green Paper in 1999 and further consultation, in February 2001 PlanFirst, Review of plan making in NSW White Paper was released. The White Paper foreshadowed publication of a draft exposure bill on the proposed reforms in later 2001. This paper briefly reviews some of the problems of environmental planning under the current system, summarises the proposed changes as noted in the White Paper, and provides the views of the reforms of some key stakeholders.

The PlanFirst framework aims to provide a 'whole of government' strategic approach to urban, regional and rural planning. The proposed reforms are designed to enable the plans and policies of government agencies which have a bearing on environmental planning to be better connected to the planning system. The White Paper proposed three levels of planning documents: local plans; regional strategies; and state planning polices.

It is proposed that the local plan will set the strategic direction for the council, and provide the focus for actions, development and environmental management across the whole local government area. A local plan will: be the strategic whole of council plan; provide a single mechanism that coordinates and focuses a council's planning activities; be a single plan; cover a whole local government area, setting the direction for at least 3-5 years. Each council will have only one local plan, which will provide all the information for guiding the management of the local government area and development decisions taken.

The White Paper noted that regional strategies will: be a region's principal environmental planning document; provide agreed goals; be much broader than a development control document, giving strong direction, identifying priorities for action and promoting opportunities for investment; set a clear framework for local planning; interpret and apply state planning policies and implement solutions to regional priorities and cross boundary issues; not affect the legal status of other regional plans, such as those dealing with natural resource issues.

State planning policies provide comprehensive advice on: the protection of ecological processes and natural systems; economic development; the maintenance of community well-being; and set the context for regional and local planning and decision making. The White Paper noted that after the passage of amendments to the EP&A Act, state planning policies will be prepared first, to enable the preparation of regional strategies. Once regional strategies are prepared, local plans can then be developed.