The NSW Government's long-awaited Green Paper on a New Planning System for NSW proposes a radical overhaul of the State's planning laws, with a focus on "strategic planning". Other features of the new regime include streamlined approval processes, new planning policies (with public participation front-loaded in the policy development phase), a less detailed Planning Act (with more detail devolved to guidance and good practice advisory notes), and State-wide sharing of infrastructure costs for growth areas.
Minister for Planning and Infrastructure Brad Hazzard says "the system has become complex and legalistic, focussed heavily on process and not on the outcomes that users of the system are seeking to achieve."
The Green Paper sets out four themes for the new system: Community participation, Strategic focus, Streamlined approval, and Provision of infrastructure.
The Government wants earlier community involvement at the strategic stage. To improve community participation in planning, the Green Paper proposes:
- a Public Participation Charter to require the appropriate level of community participation in plan-making and development assessment;
- strategic community participation (with a focus on public input at the strategic planning phase instead of the individual project application phase);
- transparency in decision-making to increase public access to the evidence base for decisions; and
- information technology and e-planning to simplify and improve community access to planning information and processes.
More decisions on land use, zoning and development control will be made in the strategic stages of the planning process, and planning instruments will change:
- NSW Planning Policies will replace SEPPs and Section 117 Directions and provide practical high-level direction;
- regional Growth Plans will align strategic planning with infrastructure delivery;
- subregional delivery Plans will effect immediate changes to zones, and will be based on evidence in Sectoral Strategies and linked to Growth Infrastructure Plans;
- Local Land Use Plans will be put in a strategic context and will provide performance-based development guidelines; and
- new Zones will capture investment opportunities and preserve local character.
All these plans will have common elements, including:
- integrated land use and infrastructure planning
- operational components to deliver infrastructure and services
- incorporation of all government agency requirements – so no concurrence or referrals at the zoning or development application stage; and
- opportunities for streamlined decision-making at development stages.
The Green Paper's goal is "that an applicant knows what the assessment path will be, what the requirements for lodgement and assessment will be and who will determine the application". Key streamlining features include:
- depoliticised decision-making – independent experts would be given a greater role in development decisions;
- strategic compliance to allow development that complies with strategic planning policies to proceed;
- streamlined State significant assessment to deliver major projects sooner;
- smarter and timely merit assessment with requirements matching the level of risk; · expanding the scope of complying development and code-based assessment, to reduce transaction costs and speed up approvals for simpler, more standardised forms of development; and
- extended reviews and appeals to increase the accountability of decision-makers – it appears that avenues for review and appeal will be expanded rather than reduced.
Provision of infrastructure
The intention is to link planning and delivery of infrastructure to strategic planning for growth via:
- contestable infrastructure to enable greater private sector participation in infrastructure delivery;
- Growth Infrastructure Plans to link strategic plans with infrastructure provision;
- affordable infrastructure contributions to provide a fairer and simpler system to support growth; and
- Public Priority Infrastructure to streamline assessment for major infrastructure delivery.
What happens now?
The Government is seeking submissions on the Green Paper by Friday 14 September 2012. After that it will refine its policy proposals and release a White Paper and Exposure Draft Bill for comment.
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