MACROC welcomes the opportunity to comment on this stage of the review of the planning system in New South Wales. This submission provides a regional response to the Planning Review Green Paper: A New Planning System for NSW.
MACROC supports the reform of the planning system in NSW and believes that the underpinning objective and philosophy of a new legislative structure for planning should promote sustainable economic growth and development balanced with social considerations, environmental protection and natural resource management; should support the timely delivery of public facilities and critical infrastructure as a core planning issue; should be written in plain English, be simple, clear and inexpensive for users (assisted by information technology and electronic planning), and should acknowledge that planning issues for Growth Area councils are different to those experienced in some regional and inner metropolitan councils.
MACROC would like to comment on the following principles for reform detailed in the Green Paper, with the understanding that some of the issues raised may be addressed as part of the White Paper and Exposure Bill due to be released later in 2012.
The Green Paper discusses the importance of community participation in plan making and development assessment. It talks of the establishment of a Public Participation Charter to assist in the creation of new community participation strategies, of strategic community participation where the whole community is engaged in the development of Subregional Delivery Plans, of transparency in decision making, ensuring that communities can access information about developments and the use of information technology and electronic planning to assist this process.
MACROC supports improved community consultation in the planning process however does not believe that it should be restricted to the early stages of the development process and that the community should have an opportunity to comment at the development application stage of the process.
Over the last few years councils have developed better strategies to engage with their communities. The Integrated Planning and Reporting legislative requirement in particular has required councils across NSW to engage in greater community engagement with differing levels of success. Effective community consultation presents challenges and it is often difficult to engage with community stakeholders at a broad conceptual level (as the Green Paper proposes). It is often only when there is a concrete proposal that affects the community directly that the community actively seeks to engage. For truly meaningful consultation to occur in the planning process there would need to be specific strategies developed and this would require additional resources and skills being made available to councils, in order for them to effectively participate in planning based community consultation.
The Green Paper outlines the government’s proposal for strategic planning. NSW Planning Policies will be prepared by the State Government and will outline policy direction and position on major planning issues. The State Government will also prepare Regional Growth Plans that will provide direction on how the Government expects a region to grow over a 20 year period.
MACROC supports the integration of long term planning strategies however is concerned that if the proposed State Planning Policies and Regional Growth Plans are not embedded in legislation they will be difficult to enforce.
It is proposed that Sub-regional Delivery Plans will be prepared by Regional Boards and MACROC is concerned that there are no local government elected representatives on these Boards. This is unacceptable.
The Green Paper looks at mechanisms for depoliticising of the decision making process by delegation of decision making to independent panels (the use of regional panels and local expert panels). MACROC would question the need to create independent panels given the already limited determinations of development applications made by elected representatives. Decision making about local matters should remain with local government to ensure that the community has an equal voice in planning decisions that affect that community.
In terms of strategic compliance the reforms propose that if a strategic plan has been endorsed for an area any development proposal that conforms with the parameters set out in the plan should be allowed to proceed. The standardisation of development consent and simplification of language used in planning documentation is supported however there is concern that Strategic Compliance Certificates may allow development contrary to local planning policies and without appropriate community consultation. There is no indication in the Green Paper as to whether appeal will be possible against the granting of such certificates.
MACROC supports the principle of integrating long term strategic planning with the provision of infrastructure funding and delivery. However if the proposed State Policies and Regional Growth Plans are not statutory, they will be difficult to enforce and that in turn will mean a lack of certainty for all stakeholders. It is critical that local government be involved from the beginning in the preparation of Growth Infrastructure Plans and it is important that these plans are based on evidence that is impartial and independently sourced. The plans also need to ensure that there is not a focus on housing supply at the expense of employment and agricultural lands.
The Green Paper proposes that the delivery of the planning system reforms be the responsibility of a CEOs Group, comprised of representatives from government agencies overseeing input into planning. However there does seem to be an omission in that there is no indication that the Office of Heritage and Environment is represented on this group.
MACROC would support mandatory performance monitoring on the understanding that the data is used to improve performance.
There will also need to be work done by the Department on transitional arrangements and resourcing. This transition period will be difficult and savings and transitional provisions introduced to each new plan will need to be to be robust in order to provide certainty to all stakeholders.
MACROC supports the aims of the reform to simplify and streamline the NSW planning system however there are concerns about some of the proposed changes raised in the Green Paper.
In general the Green Paper appears to support economic and market growth constraining the role of local government and community participation at most levels of decision making in planning. Concerns are raised that additional opportunities for developers to seek spot rezoning present a real risk of undermining the strategic focus of the proposed reforms. The Green Paper also lacks emphasis on developing a planning system designed to ensure high quality planning outcomes.
The Green Paper does not focus on ecologically sustainable development and this is seen as a major omission. There is also a lack of detail about protection of agricultural lands and MACROC considers that agriculture, together with transport and infrastructure, should be considered integral in land use planning.
MACROC thanks you for the opportunity to provide further input into the Review of the NSW planning system. It is hoped that the comments made in this submission will be considered by the Planning Review Panel together with the more detailed individual submissions made by MACROC Member Councils: Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly.
MACROC looks forward to seeing more detail about the proposed reforms with the release of the White Paper and the Exposure Bill later in 2012.
Prepared by Christine Winning