Legislation has passed through the New South Wales parliament to change the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act) that will see the biggest overhaul of the NSW planning system since the legislation’s inception almost 40 years ago.
For the first time, "good design" will be at the forefront of the state’s planning system. NSW government architect Peter Poulet and his office had worked with the state government and councils to include the promotion of "built and cultural heritage, including Aboriginal cultural heritage" and the "proper construction and maintenance of buildings".
Minister for Planning and Housing, Anthony Roberts said: “The changes reflect the Government’s commitment to thriving, safe and well-designed communities with local character and heritage.”
Roberts said the changes have a key focus on enhancing community participation by requiring planning authorities to prepare and implement community participation plans that detail how they engage with their community.
“These plans include mandatory minimum periods such as a 14-day exhibition period for development applications, unless the Community Participation Plan says otherwise. For Local Environmental Plans (LEP’s) the minimum exhibition period is 28 days. Authorities will be encouraged to go beyond the minimum requirements, in order to ensure the consultation suits the community’s needs”.
[Related reading: Elevating the Role Of Design: NSW Announces Design Policy]Roberts said the changes ensured a simpler, faster planning system, and will build community confidence in planning decisions and outcomes. “There is no denying that NSW is a great place to live and work, however, the best places do not just happen, they are planned, and planning for the future of our state is critical.
“By focusing on community participation, strategic planning, clarity in decision making and simpler and faster processes, the Bill will help strengthen community confidence in the planning system.
“Greater confidence and participation is essential to accommodating an extra 2.2 million people in NSW over the next 20 years, while at the same time maintaining liveability and the richness of our natural and built environment.”
The changes strengthen councils’ focus on strategic planning, which builds on the recent introduction of Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels (IHAPs) in Greater Sydney and Wollongong.
The Urban Taskforce said the package of reforms passed by the NSW Parliament are a step forward for the planning system in NSW but the detail resolution of the reforms could lead to some elements slowing planning applications down.
“The big picture reforms that have gone through the NSW Parliament sound like progressive moves to lift strategic planning and get communities on board with planning decisions but the detail could create more red tape rather that a more efficient system,” says Urban Taskforce chief executive Chris Johnson.
“A focus on strategic planning is good but to require yet another planning document in the form of a 'local strategic planning statement’ could add significant time and could lead to different interpretations with Local Environmental Plans. By adding another layer we are concerned that this may make planning slower and more complicated.
“The inclusion of design quality as an objective in the act is a good move particularly as greater densities are likely and communities will be more supportive of well-designed environments. The roll of the NSW Government Architect in giving guidance on design quality is a good use of this position that has been an input to the built environment in NSW over 200 years.”
The Housing Industry Association have come out strongly against the reforms, saying that the package of amendments will add more cost and further delays to new home buyers.
“Today the NSW Parliament endorsed widespread changes to the State’s planning rules, but they do very little to address Sydney’s worsening housing crisis,” HIA’s executive director David Bare said.
“Changes to the rules affecting complying development, a fast track approval pathway for minor types of building works, including single homes on land zoned for houses, requiring further consultation including sending a copy of a certificate and related plans to neighbours before approval is issued is completely contrary to the purpose of this type of approval.