The NSW Government is planning extensive changes to the state's planning system.
Before the election which brought them to government, Mr O'Farrell's party promised to improve the planning system by repealing the Labor Government's Part 3A of the Planning Act and give local communities more say in planning matters. (Part 3A gave the Planning Minister sweeping powers to approve developments.)
However, more empowerment to local communities, to ordinary people, is another promise that the NSW Government has reneged on. Certainly Part 3A of the Planning Act has been abolished but something far more extreme is being put in its place.
What the Government is proposing is clearly defined in the planning White Paper, A New Planning System for NSW. The White Paper is currently on exhibition with people able to comment on it until June 28th.
Some of the measures which the Government wants to introduce are listed below.
- Key planning decisions on land use will be given to unelected regional bodies dominated by Ministerial appointees.
- Up to 80% of developments will be approved in 10 to 25 days without any community notice or input.
- Local councils will be forced to deliver unpopular planning decisions made at a state and regional level.
- Both heritage and environmental protections will be further reduced.
- Strategic Compatibility Certificates (SCC) allow the Director-General of Planning, the chief Planning bureaucrat in NSW, to "certify that specific development on specific land is permissible... despite any profhibition on the carrying out of the development" in a Local Plan.
- The Planning Minister may declare a development a State Significant Development (SSD). The criteria for such decisions (if indeed criteria exist) have not been revealed.
- The use of developer-paid private certifiers to assess and approve the majority of developments will be expanded.
Late in 2012, commenting on the Government's planning reforms, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) raised concerns about the risk of corruption. ICAC pointed out that taking powers away from local councils and handing them to state officials does not fight corruption. "There is no reason to suppose that a minister or state-level planning official is any more or less susceptible to corruption than a local councillor or professional planning officer." (ICAC Submission on NSW Planning Reforms, Sept. 2012) Indeed the ICAC hearings earlier this year into the granting of coal mining leases should have made the Government re-think this. But perhaps the Government believes that such corruption could never happen with Coalition ministers!
In the Paper the Government pays lip-service to "sustainable" development but has quite deliberately rejected the important concept of "ecologically sustainable development". It is obvious that the natural environment will suffer severely if the Government's plans are implemented.
Interestingly, there is no consideration in the proposals for meeting the challenges of climate change. It would seem that the suspicion about this Government being climate change "deniers" is being confirmed. Surely it's not just a case of incompetence and forgetting about the issue!
There is widespread community concern about the further centralisation of planning powers in the hands of the Minister for Planning. The Better Planning Network (BPN) is a group of volunteers which was formed in 2012 to monitor the NSW Government's approach to changes to planning legislation. There are currently 400 groups around the state which are affiliated with with the BPN.
The NSW Government's White Paper focuses on economic development and centralised control to the exclusion of social and environmental matters. If the proposals become law, developers become the big winners and the general community and the natural environment will suffer.