New planning legislation which could increase the cost of development approvals, reduce accountability and potentially delay turnaround times has come into effect in Sydney and Wollongong from March 1 2018.
The legislation, which imposes mandatory Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels (IHAPs) on councils in the greater Sydney and Wollongong area – has been widely criticised by councils as an expensive and unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, Local Government NSW President Linda Scott said.
IHAPs, consisting of three experts approved by the planning minister and one council-nominated community member, will decide on all Development Applications (DAs) worth between $5 million and $30 million, or those which have received 10 or more objections.
“Ratepayers will foot the annual bill of operating an IHAP, estimated by the NSW Department of Planning at around $100,000,” Clr Scott said.
“But our members are telling us the actual costs could be much more than that figure.
“The cost is not part of any council’s budget preparation and can only be funded by redistributing from core local government services.
“This means less funding for local parks, childcare centres and libraries in local communities.
“Councils will be keeping close track of the costs and will take the Government up on its commitment to recover net costs from the beneficiaries of development.”
Clr Scott said councils were also concerned that the additional bureaucracy would actually slow the speed with which DAs could be determined.
“Less than 3% of development applications are currently referred to a council meeting for determination, with 97% being approved by professional planning staff under delegation,” she said.
“Meanwhile, IHAPs have the potential to reduce the accountability and transparency of planning decisions, because their members are neither elected nor accountable to the community.
“IHAPs aren’t about probity – they’re about eroding the community’s democratic right to have a say in what happens in their neighbourhood.”
Clr Scott said it was disappointing the Parliament had pushed ahead with the IHAPs legislation, despite rapidly reducing DA turnaround times at councils.
“These things obviously take time, but I noted Liverpool Council recently announced an online tool that had reduced turnaround times to one day for 170 housing DAs,” she said.