An Update on NSW Planning Reforms

17 January 2017

The Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment Bill 2017

On 9 January 2017 the Minister for Planning Rob Stokes announced a series of "red tape busting" reforms aimed at housing supply and enhancing community participation in the NSW Planning System.

The reform package has been released for public exhibition with comments due by 27 March 2017. The planning reforms are proposed to be undertaken through a number of amendments to the existing Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act). The NSW Government has opted for a more conservative approach, rather than a comprehensive new piece of planning legislation attempted in 2013 by the previous Planning Minister Brad Hazard. 

The planning reforms are seeking to achieve four overarching objectives:

  • Enhance community participation
  • Promote strategic planning
  • Increase probity and accountability in decision making
  • Promote simpler, faster processes for all participants

The key actions proposed are summarised below:

Enhancing Community Participation

  • Community participation plans are to be prepared by all local councils. These will set out how the community will be engaged, in particular during the strategic planning stages when the vvision and priorities for land use in a local area are established.
  • The EP&A Act will require that an approval authority provide a statement of reasons when making decisions about development. This is an important measure to boost confidence in the planning system for developers and the community and to hold decision makers to account. In instances where a development application (DA) is refused, a clear set of reasons will give developers clarity on how an application could be revised to achieve approval or the prospects for a successful challenge in the courts.
  • Consultation by developers with neighbours prior to lodging a DA is a new consideration introduced as part of the Draft Bill. Incentives for developers to do this are being further investigated, but may involved reductions in application fees.

Promoting Strategic Planning

  • Local strategic statements are to be prepared for all local council areas. These statements will establish the strategic context for the LEPs including the rationale for zoning which must be consistent with the relevant Regional or District Plan.
  • A standard format for DCPs will be adopted by all local councils. This has the potential to significantly improve the usability of the planning system across NSW by simplifying the process of navigating and finding the relevant provisions of a DCP. The content of the DCP provisions (buildings setbacks, landscape area controls, etc) will continue to be a matter for each council to determine based on the local charactertistics of the area, although model DCP provisions will be available for councils to use. 
  • A check of all LEPs will be required every 5 years and will be updated if necessary. The intention is to ensure that LEPs remain up to date and allow for an appropriate level of development for a local area and thereby reduce the need for spot rezonings. It is anticipated however that land-owner initiated applications to rezone land (Planning Proposals) will continue to be a feature of the planning system.

Increasing Probity and Accountability in Decision Making

  • Amendments to the EP&A Act that ensure Council staff have delegation to determine less-complex applications  is a measure intended to improve DA processing times.
  • Local planning panels are to be established to determine more complex and contentious local development proposals. The intention of these reforms is to de-politicize decision making on individual developments by engaging technical experts to determine the DAs.

Promoting Efficient Processes

  • The Secretary of the Department of Planning and Environment will have the power to step in and provide the necessary concurrence or advice in cases where there are unreasonable delays by a government agency. Although the practicalities of this are unclear at this stage, it is clear that the need for change has been acknowledged, as evidenced in the typically long referral times taken by external agencies.
  • The proposed amendments to the EP&A Act are complemented by the emphasis on encouraging further housing development in the “missing middle” by expanding compliant development provisions for detached housing to also include medium density residential forms such as dual occupancies (duplexes) and townhouse/villa developments. This is a positive for housing delivery and will increase the diversity of new housing products  suitable for families and also appeal to empty nesters seeking to downsize.
  • Planning Agreements negotiated between planning authorities and developers will continue to be a feature of the planning system, with amendments aimed at ensuring fairness for all relevant parties. In particular, the outcome of planning agreement negotiations between a council and developers should ensure:
    • The planning agreement results in a clear public benefit;
    • The process for negotiating the planning agreement is fair and reasonable for both parties and is transparent to the broader community; and
    • The infrastructure identified in the planning agreement is informed by an assessment of the needs of the local community.

Visit the APP blog for future updates on the proposed changes to the planning system. If you have any queries in relation to how these proposed changes may impact you or your company please contact Josh Owen.

Add new comment