State Government taking increased control over local planning decisions

KATHY COWLEY

When Planning Minister Roberts announced the introduction of mandatory Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels (IHAPs) for all Councils in Sydney last year, it was supposedly to ‘guard against corruption and lead to better local planning decisions’.

This imposition applies to all Development Applications with a value greater than $5 million up to $30 million. However, we are already burdened with the Sydney North Planning Panel established in 2016 to determine regionally significant development applications with a capital investment value of more than $20M, and can also conduct rezoning reviews where a developer is denied a rezoning request by Council.

The Independent Planning Assessment Commission (IPAC), also under delegation from the Minister, then reviews and approves major developments above this value. As we have mentioned in previous newsletters, the IPAC to date has a rate of approval close to 99% in favour of developers vs the community. One can only assume that iHaps will follow the same pathway.

There has been widespread community concern regarding the mandatory imposition of IHaps on all Councils, which takes more development approval decisions away from local council and elected councillors into the hands of unelected State Government appointees.

The standard model for IHAPs comprises three independent expert members from law, government, planning, architecture and one community member. The community member will represent the geographical area within the Local Government Area of the proposed development. No councillors are allowed to be included. Therefore, there will be only one member with a local perspective on the development. We believe IHAPS have been put in place to facilitate development which may not always be in keeping with the local area and which will have less scrutiny by the community.

“It is essential the Government has a transparent and accountable process in place when assessing DAs of significant value, when there is a conflict of interest for the council or developer, or when they are of a sensitive nature,” Mr Roberts said. “By making IHAPs mandatory, local councils will be able to focus on providing community services, strategic plans and development controls for their local area.”

In other words, this State Government is increasingly taking development planning out of the hands of community. IHAPs will be able to handle DAs where they seek to depart from a local development standard or have numerous objections. The idea that this government controlled body will reflect community concerns and uphold local development controls against developer interests is naive. This has not been the experience with other government bodies.

In the Sydney Morning Herald on 8th August, the president of Local Government NSW, Keith Rhoades, said the panels have “the potential to actually reduce the accountability and transparency of planning decisions”.

“Councils are accountable to the community where panels are not,” he said. 

As Elizabeth Farrelly accurately points out in her SMH article in 3 June 2017, ‘Why would being appointed, and therefore unaccountable, make people more trustworthy?’ Yes indeed!
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Friends of Ku-ring-gai Environment is a community group which proudly promotes
the natural, built and cultural heritage of Ku-ring-gai. For more information visit
www.foke.org.au.

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