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The NSW Planning System: Proposed Reforms

The NSW Planning System: Proposed Reforms

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. 01/2008 by Stewart Smith
Under the planning framework, some $30 billion worth of development applications are determined in NSW every year. Local government is responsible for assessing development worth $20 billion. Approximately 70 percent of this total value is for residential work, and up to 90 percent is lodged by non-developers.

The NSW Government believes that the time taken to assess development applications is too long, and that the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 is focussed on process rather than outcome. This Paper looks at reforms proposed by the NSW Department of Planning in its discussion paper Improving the NSW Planning System, November 2007.

Changes to the NSW planning regime must be considered within the context of regulatory reform at the Federal level. The Council of Australian Governments has been active in the area of streamlining development approval processes.

The NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 has undergone significant revision and reform. The NSW Government believes that further reform is warranted, and has proposed changes in the areas of:
    Plan Making. Introducing a new gateway system which will provide an upfront assessment of the suitability of a Local Environment Plan against established criteria.
    Development Assessment and Review. Establishing: a Planning Assessment Commission to determine applications of State significance; Joint Regional Planning Panels to determine applications exceeding $50 million in value, or projects by State Government agencies greater than $5 million.
    Complying Development. Significantly expand the level of complying development so that the number of exempt and complying developments increases from its current 11% to 50% within four years. This is to be achieved by the implementation of a statewide complying development code.
    Electronic Planning. Implement e-planning initiatives.
    Building and Subdivision Certification. To address perceived conflicts of interest in the certification system, the number of complying development certificates that can be issued to any one client by a certifier will be limited. For larger projects, the Building Professionals Board will allocate certifiers.
    Other Reforms. Including changes to strata management and paper subdivisions.

Stakeholder responses to these proposed reforms are discussed. In general, the development industry has supported the thrust of the reforms. In contrast, the Local Government and Shires Associations, whilst supportive of some of the proposals, strongly disagrees with the Government in the areas of complying development and the establishment of Joint Regional Planning Panels.