Not according to plan

‘STREAMLINING:’ Former state government ministers Ron Dyer and Tim Moore are recommending radical changes in new planning laws, including removing councillors’ say in development applications.Follow @LouThrower
Nanjing Night Net


WIPING out councillors’ role in planning decisions will go down like a “lead balloon,” says Council’s general manager. With no shortage of controversial developments on their plate and ratepayers stridently airing their views, a vital avenue will be cut off, Chris Berry argues.

He was responding to proposed changes in a state planning overhaul. Former state ministers Tim Moore and Ron Dyer are undertaking the review, dubbed the biggest “shake up of the system” in 33 years. Their recommendations are due soon. Meantime, state planning minister Brad Hazzard is dropping some hints on the report’s contents.

He told the Urban Taskforce last week that some councillors were deciding developments based on their personal interests, rather than their merits.

“I am supportive of keeping politicians, as far as is humanly possible out of the development assessment decisions,” he said. Instead, he wants them to set broad planning strategies in with which developments must comply.

The suggestion is sparking an outcry from community groups, who say every project throws up different challenges; one size doesn’t fit all.

Mr Berry, the council’s former chief planner, agrees there’s room for staff to assess more complying development to free up councillors. But going much further is fraught.

“The review is saying councillors should step aside but that is in conflict with their charter to represent ratepayers. It’s a real dilemma because they have a role,” he said.

Complicating matters was that representatives were asked to assess projects against planning laws, not public opinion.

If there were public objections, he believed the DA should come to Council. Yet if people didn’t agree with that decision, their only recourse was court action.

Mr Berry advocates an appeal system similar to a tenancy tribunal, allowing all parties to thrash out concerns before an independent arbiter and strike a solution.

“It would avoid having to go to court and hiring lawyers at 50 paces,” he said.

“At a subregional level there needs to be some mechanism for people to have a say.”

Mayor Geoff Kettle has rejected suggestions the state government hasn’t returned planning powers to councils, as promised.

“I don’t think that’s true but I’d have concerns if Council had no right to call in some developments,” he said.

“But I agree that more complying development would free up councillors to concentrate on strategic planning and other policies.”

The council has lodged a submission on the planning review. Mr Berry said Council had been arguing for some time the current system was “dated, cumbersome and weighed down in bureaucracy.”

Too much power was given to concurrence authorities, like the Sydney Catchment Authority. “Planning should be a simple process but we’ve lost sight of what it’s about,” he said.

“It’s about getting good outcomes for the community and putting good processes in place to achieve those.

“But all of that is getting lost in the technical mumbo jumbo.”

A green paper by Mr Moore and Mr Dyer, containing recommendations, is four months overdue.




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