Independent Planning Panels May Take The Wheel In NSW


Independent planning panels across parts of New South Wales are expected to take a greater role as the government intends to ‘strip power’ from local councils.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the NSW Government will remove some local council’s ability to determine development applications above a certain value.

“Under the reform due to go to cabinet ... it would be mandatory for all metropolitan councils to use independent panels to determine applications above a certain value,” The Sydney Morning Herald said.

It is understood that for some regional councils use of the panels would be voluntary.

If the motion goes ahead after this week, it is anticipated that the panels will closely resemble the current Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels (IHAPs), which were introduced to the Planning Act in January this year in order to allow the Planning Minister to order a council in certain situations to work with an independent panel for development applications.

The most commonly-recognised IHAPs are typically made up of industry professionals, including planning, architecture and urban design experts, who are then joined by a small selection of community representatives.

The Sydney Morning Herald said Planning Minister Anthony Roberts believed that mandating Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels (IHAPs) is an important probity measure.

Cabinet will reportedly also consider the value of a project that would trigger the automatic referral to the independent panel.

"IHAPs are already working in some local government areas very successfully, where they're a valuable probity and integrity measure to ensure we have the best planning approval regime possible,” Mr Roberts told The Sydney Morning Herald.

Greens MLC David Shoebridge reportedly condemned the idea of the independent panel, telling The Sydney Morning Herald that the reform would be a real step backwards for the NSW planning system.

"This is yet another example of the Coalition government stripping democratically elected councils of their decision making and authority," he said.

According to Mr Shoebridge, there would be a risk that councils would use the mandate to select their preference of property industry experts to make decisions about development applications, and to suggest the changes are probity and integrity measures is nothing but spin.

The planning reform will go to cabinet on Thursday.

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