Urban Taskforce has sought for planning decisions to be made by separate independent panels based on project size.

The group has suggested that council panels should take planning decisions for small projects and regional panels should be responsible for large projects.

Urban Taskforce CEO Chris Johnson believes that independent panels assessing development applications will take the politics out of decision-making. However, small scale projects should remain with council planners to provide reports to a council independent panel while large projects over $20 million will need a different process.

He explains that the $20 million-plus projects inevitably involve state government agencies such as roads and transport and are determined by planning panels.

Similar projects in Sydney, for instance, are chaired by the Greater Sydney Commission’s District Commissioner.

The current system gives local council planners the power to prepare a planning report, which is then provided to the panel to make their decision.

However, the report often takes a negative position on the proposed development, reflecting the views of local councillors rather than providing an independent, merit based analysis of the proposal.

A better process for large projects in Sydney woukd be to establish six District Planning Offices in each of the Greater Sydney Commission’s districts.

Elaborating on the demand for separate panels, Johnson said only 1.3% of the Development Applications that are currently processed in Sydney are above $20 million but represent 47.3% of the total construction value of DAs.

Each of these big projects currently takes 271 days on average to be approved with specialist planning skills required to negotiate with a range of government agencies.

He suggests that the six District Planning Offices could send skilled staff from councils in the district to a single office to prepare planning reports.

The other 98.7% of DAs should be processed at the local council level by council planners.

Johnson also noted that any planning reform designed to introduce more independence in the process should first acknowledge the new governance structure established by the Greater Sydney Commission of six districts.