Developer influence over Council?

After learning that developers paid for a number of technical studies relating to Council’s CBD Strategy CWWPA asked Council a number of questions. See their responses below:

Who made the decision to accept money from developers on matters where they will likely submit applications for approval by Council? What process was used to assure the highest levels if transparency? How was this transparency enacted and publicly communicated?

Answer: The approach taken was in response to DPIE concerns with the CBD Strategy contained in a letter to Council dated 9 August 2019 and the return of 8 Planning Proposals involving four proponents. No money was accepted from developers.

Officers from the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE), Transport for NSW and Council agreed on the scope of investigations to address DPIE’s concerns with parts of the CDB Strategy.

DPIE, TFNSW and Council guided and reviewed the consultants’ work ensuring that it satisfactorily addressed DPIE’s concerns. DPIE’s support and oversight was required to enable the CBD Strategy to progress to finalising the outstanding matters.

·Why wasn’t the fact that Council had accepted funding from developer’s likely to submit development proposals within the CBD disclosed in the initial report that went to Council given that transparency is a core Willoughby community value as expressed in Council’s CIty strategy outcome: “5.1 – be honest, transparent and accountable in all that we do”?

Answer: It is considered that the Council has been consistent with the City Strategy Outcome “5.1 – Be honest, transparent and accountable in all that we do”. No funding was accepted from developers. Instead, work was carried out by the proponents at no cost to Council.

The initial report to Council where endorsement was sought and given was on 26 June 2017, which predated the DPIE concerns and the subsequent approach taken.  

The 14 September 2020 Council report, and in particular Attachment 1 ‘Budget/Financial’, detailed the work required and stated that “with agreement from the DPIE, funding of additional work was not at Council’s expense and all work scrutinised by both Council and DPIE prior to any decision making.”

How can the community be assured that these developers will not have an influence on decisions in the areas they funded?

Answer: There has always been concern to ensure that the review work carried out would be credible and satisfactory to the Council, community and the State Government.

ARUP were engaged by the proponents to prepare documentation addressing transport issues and to meet the requirements of DPIE and TfNSW.

Council Officers and Transport for NSW supervised the work and the proponents paid for the work.

The peer review on transport was undertaken by Transport for NSW.

GMU were engaged by the proponents to prepare documentation addressing urban design issues in those parts of the CBD adjoining Heritage Conservation Areas and to meet the requirements of DPIE.

Council Officers supervised and proponents paid for the work.

The Peer Review on urban design was undertaken by the DPIE Urban Design Team.

Weir Phillips Heritage and Planning were engaged by the proponents to prepare documentation addressing heritage issues and to meet the requirements of DPIE.

Council Officers supervised and the proponents paid for the work.

The Peer Review on heritage was undertaken by the DPIE Urban Design Team.

Did council, without any influence from external sources, select and instruct the consultants independently and at the end hand the bill over and the developers paid the bill no question asked?

Who were the Developers involved and how much did each pay?

Are the consultant involved part of an industry association which has an appropriate ethics code covering such situations?

Did the developers have any influence over the management of the consultants?

 Answer: The proponents selected and engaged the consultants, who are each recognized companies in their respective fields.

As agreed with DPIE, payments for the GMU study on urban design issues, the ARUP study on transport issues and the Weir Phillips study on heritage issues were made by the proponents directly to the respective consultancies. Council staff are not aware of the cost of the studies, nor the proportions paid by the individual proponents.

No proponent benefitted from the adoption of the studies, and in fact two proponents of Planning Proposals across three sites had their development potential reduced. 

Proponents involved are:

·      DPG Project 23 Pty Ltd (Develotek)

·      Ellis Street Development Pty Limited (Central Element)

·      H and J Vakili Pty Ltd

·      Goldfields Chatswood No. 1 Pty Ltd

ARUP, GMU and Weir Phillips contain members of the Planning Institute of Australia. Architects from GMU and Weir Phillips are registered under the relevant legislation.

Further information on the consultants is available here:

https://www.arup.com/offices/australia/sydney

http://gmu.com.au/

https://www.weirphillipsheritage.com.au/

It is Council’s understanding the reports were prepared on an independent basis. This was further checked via peer reviews and in meeting the requirements of DPIE.

I hope this information assists with your enquiry and by all means let me know if you have further questions or require any clarification.

One thought on “Developer influence over Council?

  1. From a member:
    1) It seems that the DPIE told the council in Aug 2019 that “we will only approve your Chatswood CBD plan if the following reports are done.”

    2) unclear if the council really set the scope or was it really DPIE, Transport for NSW and a little input from council?

    3) Developers (proponents) chose the consultants, however, the consultants are well known, so council would have probably chosen at least 1 of the 3 of the consultants if it had to choose the consultants.

    4) Probably the most important thing to consider is the independence of different departments within DPIE. It almost looks like the council was nearly bypassed, council helped set the scope, supervise the work and then received the reports. Council may not have had a lot of input (it appears the left hand of DPIE said the Chatswood CBD plan needed these reports for approval. DPIE set the ultimate scope of the reports via its letter Aug 2019. The right hand of DPIE appeared to peer review the reports)

    5) Whilst it looks as though these reports are probably at arms length, it looks like DPIE set the scope and then peer reviewed the reports and probably had a major say in the report outcomes.

    6) My personal concern still remains:
    – that the reports were generated in response to the Aug 2019 DPIE letter to council to approve the Chatswood CBD Plan (tick the box exercise)

    Vs

    – generated to undertake an actual review of the scale of the CBD plan (FSR and height limits and solar access), rather just make small adjustments around the edges.

    My hope when the Federation requested and received a copy of the letter from DPIE that the second would happen, however, it appears the first happened (the scale of the original plan was locked in with the Aug 2019 letter and small changes around the edges were just going to be made).

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