More work needed on NSW planning laws

This week I wrote to NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard to raise my concerns with the redrafted NSW Planning Bill and Planning Administration Bill.

I had previously raised a number of serious concerns about the proposed changes with the Minister including community involvement, sustainability, design quality, affordable housing and the loss of effective planning arrangements for the City of Sydney.

The Minister has responded to some of the major community concerns, but I believe significant revisions to the Bills are still required to deliver on the NSW Government's election commitment to a transparent, fair and efficient system that restores planning to local communities.

I welcome the introduction of sustainable development as a key objective of the Bill, the removal of targets for code-assessable development and clarification that non-compliant development will be subject to a full merit assessment and community consultation.

The strengthened role of the Heritage Council and absence of legislative restrictions on planning practices such as design excellence, floor space systems and sun access planes that are crucial to quality development outcomes are also positive changes.

However, there are further vital improvements that should be made and they include:

• The Planning Bill's definition of sustainable development does not include the concept of ecologically sustainable development, which should be reinstated.

• Code assessable development will be mandatory for growth areas, but there is no definition of 'growth area' within the Bill - it should be included to provide greater certainty for communities and local government.

• The concept of Strategic Compatibility Certificates must be removed from the Bill - the community is rightly concerned that they will be used to override strategic plans developed by local communities and councils.

• The Bill removes the ability for councils to levy for affordable housing through new schemes and that should be reinstated.

• The five year time frame for infrastructure contributions undermines the capacity of the Local Government to undertake long-term financial planning and contradicts proposed reforms to the Local Government Act.

• The Bill retains excessive discretionary powers for the Minister for Planning. For example, the Minister for Planning retains powers to override the provisions of a local plan and amend a local plan without public consultation or prior notice when he declares a project as public priority infrastructure.

I have asked the Minister to give careful consideration to these and other recommendations prior to the enactment of the legislation.

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