Proposed changes to the New South Wales planning regulation
A new Minister for Planning is not the only change in the NSW Department of Planning and Environment, with the then Planning Minister Rob Stokes announcing on 9 January 2017 new reforms to State’s key planning legislation, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act (NSW). While being narrower in scope to the previous (and now lapsed) Planning Bill 2013 (NSW), the proposed changes in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment Bill 2017 (NSW) nevertheless introduce a significant new focus in the way that planning assessments are to be treated.
Amongst the current proposed changes are:
- Greater emphasis on community participation: What appears to be the flagship change in the new Bill is what the Department are labelling as “enhancing community participation”. The first aspect of this are the requirement that planning authorities (such as councils) must prepare Community Participation Plans which will outline how that planning authority will undertake community participation for upcoming proposals and development applications. Decision makers will also be required to provide reasons for decisions in order to assist community members to understand how and why certain planning decisions are reached. There will also be a requirement for State Significant Development (which includes some of the larger commercial and industrial development) to consult with the community prior to lodging a development application.
- Further reviews at a local planning level: Local councils will be required to publish “local strategic planning statements” which will outline their view for future planning and the council’s planning priorities. Councils will be required to review their Local Environmental Plans (LEP) every 5 years to ensure they remain relevant to the current demographic and environment, as well as reviewing any Development Control Plans (DCP) to remove inconsistencies across the myriad DCPs that currently exist.
- Encouraging the use of Complying Development: Complying Development is a simplified process of development consent for lower-impact development. The proposals will attempt to both further simplify the process and increase awareness and education in order to promote its use. There will also be further controls given to prevent misuse of complying development.
- Deterrence for unauthorised or non-complying development: The ability to modify development consent will be limited to minor errors or where the changes are not significant, removing the ability to retrospectively gain approval for works. The changes are an attempt to clamp down on illegal works being made legal after the fact.
- A “Step-in” power for the Department: The Department of Planning and Environment will gain the reserve power to provide advice, concurrence or general terms of approval on behalf of other agencies (such as councils) where there is delay or conflict.
- A new object of “design”: The Act will now state that one of its objects is to “promote good design in the built environment” so that design principles are to be considered in applying planning laws.
The act includes numerous “housekeeping” provisions as well as further phasing out of old provisions such as Part3A approvals. The reforms are currently up for public submission, the deadline for which has been recently extended to 31 March 2017. Anyone who is likely to be affected by reforms to the planning process is encouraged to make a submission.