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    Major changes to NSW Planning Act to create a simpler, faster assessment system

    Nathan Johnson

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    The NSW Government has released a raft of new planning reforms that propose to dramatically alter the way developments applications are assessed in the state.

    The draft amendments to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EPAA) have been proposed under the guidance of four major objectives developed by government and stakeholders over the past few years and will undergo a public consultation period until 10 March.

    The amendments seek to improve community participation in planning decisions, facilitate strategic planning, increase probity and accountability in decisions, and create a simpler, faster planning system.

    Changes include standardising development control plans to promote consistency across the state, extending and improving the complying development assessment process, and the creation of new powers for the planning minister to direct a council to establish a local planning panels of experts and community representatives.

    Another major change would be the establishment of an incentive system for developers who consult on new developments with neighbours prior to lodging DAs, thus speeding up the exhibition period.

    Key to the amendments is the increased specialisation, consistency and professionalism in decision making processes. The government will have the power to direct a council to establish an independent assessment panel to make recommendations on developments, which they suggest will depoliticise the decision-making process as recommendations will be made solely by assessing the legality of projects.

    Another key part of the agenda for improving the NSW planning system, says the government, has been to strengthen strategic planning. The amendments will require councils to develop and publish local strategic planning statements to be developed in consultation with the community. Once in place, the local strategic planning statements will inform rezoning decisions and guide development as councils will be required to consider their statements when preparing planning proposals.

    The government says that design-thinking will play a major role in crafting these statements of strategic planning and the way developments are assessed in the state.

    ARCHITECTS WELCOME FOCUS ON GOOD DESIGN

    The draft changes were quickly welcomed by the Australian Institute of Architects.

    The AIA is particularly pleased with the focus on good design in the proposed changes.

    About the inclusion of good design as a new object of the NSW EPAA, NSW President Shaun Carter observed it was consistent with the Minister’s release last year of a draft architecture and design policy that aimed to deliver improvements in the quality of all new developments as NSW met the challenges of an increasing population.

    Carter believes that the importance and value of urban design will increase as urban areas become increasingly dense with medium- and high-rise residential development and that design-led planning will be essential in the creation of better cities, not just bigger ones with more well-designed parks, public buildings and public spaces needed to provide recreational and social opportunities for residents.

    Carter added that the Institute was keen to work with the Government in defining what design-led planning looked like and how it can improve the lives of people in New South Wales.

    BIGGER REFORMS NEEDED TO BOOST SYDNEY’S HOUSING SUPPLY: URBAN TASKFORCE

    Urban Taskforce has called for bigger reforms to help boost Sydney’s housing supply. While describing the planning reforms announced by NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes as a step in the right direction, Urban Taskforce CEO Chris Johnson said a bolder approach was required to address Sydney’s housing supply problem.

    According to figures quoted by Stokes, Sydney has a shortfall of 100,000 new homes; despite improved housing completions of 31,000 a year, the city is well below the 40,000 needed in boom times.

    Johnson says that the proposed reforms are less controversial than the previous proposal under Minister Hazzard to rewrite the whole planning act, and therefore will have more support but this also means that the impact will be diluted. Some of the positive steps proposed in the latest announcement include independent assessment panels that could streamline development approvals; standardisation of Development Control Plans; and strengthening of the Department of Planning’s role in ensuring timely inputs from other government agencies.

    Urban Taskforce, however, also expressed their concerns about the reforms including keeping some re-zonings with planning agreements on hold awaiting the finalisation of council plans, and the proposal requiring early consultation with neighbours. About the latter, Johnson believes it could impact large projects where it would require having discussions with scores of different neighbours, all with different and potentially conflicting concerns.

    The Urban Taskforce also supports a greater use of complying development where an application compliant with the rules gets approved quickly.

    Commenting that the Urban Taskforce was supportive of most of the planning reforms, Johnson added that the property development industry group was keen to work with the NSW Government in refining the reforms package.

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