Following the release of the NSW Government's "A New Planning System for New South Wales – Green Paper" (Green Paper) in July 2012, feedback was invited on the planning reforms from a wide range of stakeholders including industry, business, community members and organisations, government, planning practitioners and advisory bodies. Over 1200 submissions were received and are summarised in the " Green Paper Feedback Summary" report (Feedback Summary) released on 21 December 2012. This legal update explores the key themes emerging from the consultation process.

In addition to written submissions, feedback was also obtained through community and practitioner workshops which were held across NSW. In total, the Feedback Summary prepared by the Department of Planning and Infrastructure reports on more than 1200 submissions (61 per cent from the community, 11 per cent from community organisations and 9 per cent from local government).

The Feedback Summary captures the views of key stakeholders in relation to the principles and processes underpinning the five proposed areas of planning reform: community participation; strategic focus; streamlined approvals; provision of infrastructure; and delivery culture.

The Minister for Planning and Infrastructure states in the foreword to the Feedback Summary that:

"There is strong support from the majority of community members and stakeholders for the need for reform to the State's planning system with a wide range of views on how this should be achieved."

Community participation

"Key Feedback Theme 1: There is a need to provide adequate resourcing and new methodologies for community engagement at the strategic level."

The Feedback Summary suggests that there is strong in-principle support for a Public Participation Charter as a mechanism for education and accountability across NSW, subject to further details being provided on the Charter's form, content, implementation and legal status.

There was also strong support for the concept of strategic community participation, however the challenges in achieving community engagement upfront were acknowledged, likely requiring the application of innovative responses and significant resources.

Strategic focus

"Key Feedback Theme 2: The shift towards focusing on strategic planning requires appropriate resourcing and a legible policy and legislation framework."

The common theme underpinning feedback on this issue was the absence of sufficient detail around:

  • how the hierarchy of strategic plans will operate (from NSW Planning Policies and Regional Growth Plans down to Subregional Delivery Plans and Local Land Use Plans);
  • the criteria for high growth regions;
  • how approval mechanisms will work;
  • the role of regional planning boards;
  • the legislative process for the making of planning instruments and policies; and
  • the availability of appeal rights.

In particular, a number of submissions sought clarification on the relationship between Local Land Use Plans and existing Local Environmental Plans (namely the Standard Instrument) and Development Control Plans.

Streamlined approvals

"Key Feedback Theme 3: Streamlined decision-making needs to occur at the development assessment level. By planning strategically upfront, with community input, development assessment can be smarter and more timely adopting a risk based approach."

Feedback on this issue revealed a lack of consensus across many issues relating to streamlined approvals, including:

  • depoliticised decision-making – concerns were expressed that the increased use of expert panels may serve to add another layer of bureaucracy;
  • code assessable development – some stakeholders questioned the suitability of code-based assessment for developments other than low impact and low risk developments;
  • state significant development – a number of submissions stated that they did not support the proposal for the mandatory accreditation of consultants who prepare Environmental Impact Statements, on the basis of concerns of impracticality, extended delays and increased costs;
  • concurrences – many submissions supported the proposal to abolish concurrence and referral requirements; and
  • reviews and appeals – there were mixed views on the issue of extended reviews and appeals to increase the accountability of decision makers.

Provision of infrastructure

"Key Feedback Theme 4: Integration of land use with infrastructure is imperative and the funding for infrastructure provision and delivery needs to be addressed."

Many submissions supported changes to the cost and payment of contribution levies, on the basis that expensive levies have affected the supply and affordability of housing. The current requirement for levies to be paid in the early stages of the development process is perceived as a particular deterrent. However, some submissions cautioned against the risk that reducing the cost of contribution levies may in fact inhibit the provision of infrastructure through a lack of funding.

Submissions from a variety of stakeholders also supported the retention of voluntary planning agreements as a mechanism which promotes flexibility and innovation in the provision of developer contributions.

Delivery culture

"Key Feedback Theme 5: The Department of Planning and Infrastructure needs to take a leadership role to empower planners to have a 'can do' attitude to execute decisions, and encourage collaboration between all stakeholders."

Stakeholders generally supported the introduction of governance reforms, as a necessary prerequisite to creating cultural change towards facilitative planning processes. Particular emphasis was placed upon the need for sufficient resources to be committed by the NSW Government with support for mandatory performance monitoring.

Other key issues

Submissions from 135 stakeholders emphasised the importance of transitional provisions in the period until the new planning system is fully implemented, noting the need for the transitional arrangements to be identified and an implementation plan with clear priorities, goals and deadlines.

Next steps

While the Feedback Summary does not specify which of the recommendations are likely to be adopted, the Government has indicated – in general terms – that the feedback received during the consultation process has informed the development of the White Paper.

At the time the Green Paper was released, the Government indicated that the White Paper and draft legislation would be released in late 2012 for extended public consideration, but that has been delayed. Whilst there has been no announcement of a new release date, current indications are that it may not be until February 2013.

An overview and analysis of the Green Paper was provided in earlier Legal Updates.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.