Yesterday, after due consideration, the State government decided to defer mandating changes to how some DAs are determined. Instead it says that it will consult on the issue.
The way Development Applications (DAs) are assessed and determined may change. A recent report (SMH Tuesday 25 May 2017 p,1) suggests that the NSW Government is set to strip some planning powers from Councils by legislating that Councils use some form of Independent Hearing and Assessment Panel (IHAP).
Currently, developments at Willoughby Council progress to determination in a number of ways:
- Complying developments that are assessed as meeting the criteria set down and are typically approved by a Private Certifier without any consultation with residents
- Development Applications that are assessed by Council officers who make a recommendation to Council who determine the Application. Residents can submit objections to the Council officer and address Councillors and Council.
- Greater Sydney Commission Planning Panels (GSCPP) where large developments are determined. Council officers make an assessment and a recommendation to the panel. Residents can comment and address the panel. Each of the Sydney Planning Panels comprise five members: A Greater Sydney Commission District Commissioner – the Chair; Two state government appointed representatives and Two council appointed representatives
- Other State Government processes for significant developments
There is existing legislation that allows Councils to divert some Development Applications to a panel of experts called an Independent Hearing and Assessment Panel (IHAP) constituted under Regulation 23I of the Planning Act.
A number of large Councils have been using IHAPs for some time. However, there seems great diversity in how individual IHAPs are structured and work. Councils seem to determine which applications will go to IHAP. Whilst the IHAPs were intended to consist of technical experts, some have community representatives. Some IHAPs do their own assessment whilst for others Council Officers undertake the assessment. Some IHAPs can determine the application whilst others make a recommendation back to Council.
A major reason for the possible changes is Improved probity. Currently, developers can be elected to Council and vote on development applications. The same regulation was previously proposed with the draft overhaul of the planning opwers earlier in the year that was withdrawn by the government.
What does this mean?
Currently Willoughby Council consists of thirteen community elected people and can include a developer(s). The Councilors are Ward based. So typically a resident deals with their three Ward representatives. With a IHAP it is likely that there will be two community representatives in a five person panel with the other three being technical experts. This structure is not dissimilar to the recently disbanded Joint Regional Planning Panels (JRPP) who previously determined applications now going to the GSRPP.
The Mayor of Willoughby, Clr. Gail Giles-Gidney has made the following observation on IHAPs: “I support this move. A number of our neighboring Councils already have this. IHAP’s will still enable all to have a say but to an independent panel, not one that could potentially be influenced by getting votes or looking after mates. It will be important though to make sure the panel has local representation to ensure the local perspective is heard. It should also make the process quicker.”
It appears that these new measure will be considered by Cabinet this coming Thursday.