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Local Planning Panels to take over decision making powers from NSW Councillors

NSW Parliament has passed laws introducing new “local planning panels” whilst also removing the decision making authority for Part 4 development from councillors. The 4-member panels will be comprised of an independent expert to chair the panel, two other experts and a local representative. Prohibited from joining these panels are any councillors, property developers or real estate agents. The panels will be able to decide on Development Applications (DAs) and it must be referred by councils for advice on particular developments.

On 10 August 2017 the Environmental Planning and Assessment and Electoral Legislation Amendment (Planning Panels and Enforcement) Bill 2017 was passed by NSW Parliament and assented to on 14 August 2017. The changes introduce local planning panels and will convert existing panels such as independent hearing and assessment panels in to this new regime. All local councils in the Greater Sydney Region and Wollongong will be required to establish a local planning panel, however other councils may elect to create a panel or be required to do so by the Minister.

Under the amended Environmental and Planning and Assessment Act 1979 councillors on NSW councils that have a local planning panel will no longer be able to act as a consent authority for Part 4 development (that is, most development in NSW that usually requires council consent). Instead, the functions are to be exercisable on behalf of the council by:

  1. the new local planning panels;
  2. an officer or employee of the council to whom the power has been delegated; or
  3. a regional panel.

The Minister may make directions that certain development applications are to be determined solely by a local planning panel. The NSW Government has indicated that this will involve contentious development, development that involve the interests of elected officials or development that involves significant capital investment value.

The plan of the changes is to “take the politics out of planning law” by removing the involvement of councillors in the planning decisions of that council. It has been perceived as a response by the NSW Government to the Opposition’s call to ban property developers from being elected to local government. The changes have been supported by strong approval by the Planning Institute of Australia.

Councils in the Greater Sydney Region and Wollongong will be required to establish their local planning panels by 1 March 2018. On that same date all existing NSW independent hearing and assessment panels will be become local planning panels.

Alex Collie, Lawyer

Paul Carroll, Partner

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