The biggest changes in 40 years to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act) have just been passed by the NSW parliament, and have been designed, says the state government, to make urban planning better tie in with community needs.

Following the recent introduction Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels (IHAPs) across Sydney and Wollongong, the new Act is also designed to recognise and bolster the role of councils in a range of local planning areas via the introduction of new local strategic planning statements.

“The changes reflect the government’s commitment to thriving, safe and well-designed communities with local character and heritage,” NSW minister for Planning and Housing, Anthony Roberts says.

According to Roberts, the new changes mean NSW will now have a simpler and faster planning system that also better geared to focus on enhancing community participation by requiring planning authorities to prepare and implement community participation plans that detail how they engage with their community.

“These plans include mandatory minimum periods such as a 14-day exhibition period for Development Applications, unless the Community Participation Plan says otherwise. For Local Environmental Plans (LEP’s) the minimum exhibition period is 28 days. Authorities will be encouraged to go beyond the minimum requirements, to ensure the consultation suits the community’s needs”, says Roberts.

Along with those changes, other upgrades to the EP&A Act include:

  • Strengthening and streamlining local development processes as well as strengthening compliance by introducing enforceable undertakings,
  • Requiring councils to do an LEP check at least every 5 years to consider whether the LEP is still fit for purpose,
  • Strengthening the rules for regional planning panels in line with the local IHAPs,
  • Closing off the transitional arrangements for former Part 3A projects with all future modifications to these projects to be assessed under the State significant development or State significant infrastructure pathways.

“Through the changes, councils will also be given the ability to impose a levy on complying development certificates, as well as being able to stop work for up to seven days on a complying development site to investigate whether construction aligns with the certificate,” says Roberts.