Planning changes imminent

Key Points
  • Planning changes promised.
  • Bill to come very soon.
  • Changes a mixed bag.

Note for the diary – major changes to NSW government’s planning laws will be arriving very shortly.

In March this year, Minister Stokes foreshadowed significant changes to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A), which will take up many of the ideas supported during the failed bid for reforms in 2013, along with other priorities.

Now that the Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) has released its draft District Plans the time is ripe for the State Government to pull it all together with a co-ordinated upgrade of state and local planning.

Parliamentary sittings have ceased for the year, with the first opportunity to table a bill now being February 2017. This means the draft bill will probably be appearing soon.

Foreshadowed changes should include:

  • increased community engagement, both at the plan making stage and pre-DA;
  • a clearer hierarchy of planning instruments with some recognition of the draft GSC District Plans;
  • a simpler development assessment system;
  • measures to reduce conflicts of interest within Government;
  • a focus on design outcomes in development; and
  • greater clarity around complying development.

Given the key objectives of State economic development and the demand for housing in Sydney, there is a great need for simpler planning processes, driven by clear plans and planning objectives.

Increased community engagement risks holding up development, and where local planning instruments have been the subject of close community formulation, DA’s should proceed with minimal disruption where they accord with agreed planning controls. The amendments will need to deal with the tension between neighbourhood consultation and the need for increased densities and housing forms in the Sydney region.

The industry will no doubt be keen to see if the thresholds for JRPP involvement are increased, and whether Councils will be pushed to an increased use of independent assessment panels.

The importance of a hierarchy of plans is paramount, to direct planning outcomes and ensure that overall State and local planning objectives are achieved. If bolstered by a clear assessment path, this will bring certainty to investment in property development. It remains to be seen how well the changes can facilitate the essential changes which Sydney is undergoing.

Whatever it contains, the Bill may well appear for public scrutiny before Christmas, and will no doubt raise as much response as the reform attempts of 2013.

Post by Robert Wilcher 

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