The New South Wales government has announced plans to streamline local government planning decisions on rezoning and development applications to fast-track what’s been labelled a tardy approvals process.
In one of his final speeches as NSW planning minister, Rob Stokes revealed two proposals that will “improve process” and expedite planning approvals, which controversially would return portions of application fees to developers from councils dragging their feet.
Stokes is hoping to leave a legacy behind him as he departs from the planning role for the newly created cities portfolio.
“I think you will find this proposal will dramatically cut timeframes, it will be truly transformative,” Stokes said at a Property Council lunch.
“New South Wales councils have an extremely low-risk appetite … there’s little incentive for [councils] to make decisions, the process sets us up for failure.
“The new rezoning process seeks to condense the planning proposal component and provide clear requirements and expectations for developers before they lodge a planning application.”
Stokes has mooted a planning guarantee model, similar to that in the UK, where councils would be penalised for taking too long to assess applications.
Under the plan, proponents would be refunded an amount from their application fee depending on the nature of the application and how long the council has taken to assess it outside of acceptable timeframes.
Earlier this year EG Advisory managing director Shane Geha told The Urban Developer approval times in NSW had not improved over the past two years.
“I think that the figures are well-dressed for local government,” Geha said.
“In my experience, I would say that these are actually the slowest approval times for both rezonings and development applications that I have seen in two decades.”
Stokes said the new rezoning and planning process would ensure that councils “can’t keep coming back and changing the goalposts”.
Property Council NSW executive director Luke Achterstraat said the planning minister had provided a “strong commitment and service in the planning portfolio” and congratulated him on his appointment to the cities portfolio.
“Minister Stokes should be congratulated for the leadership and drive he brought to the portfolio amid a busy reform agenda,” he said.
“We look forward to our productive working relationship with Mr Stokes continuing as the new Minister for Infrastructure, Cities and Active Transport on the delivery of the government’s vision for six major urban population centres spanning Sydney, Wollongong, the Central Coast and Newcastle.“
“Our CBDs are the economic engine rooms of New South Wales and they need to fire on all cylinders—including beyond Martin Place.
“We look forward to working with the incoming Minister for Planning and Homes Anthony Roberts to ensure New South Wales remains a great place to live and work, with the necessary and high-quality housing stock we need.”
Earlier this month the NSW government released the Design and Place State Environment Planning Policy, part of a broader review of all SEPPs in the state, and aims to “simplify and consolidate” ways to address sustainability and deliver good design.
It drew fire from industry groups who labelled it “unworkable and inadequate” and Urban Taskforce chief executive Tom Forrest claimed Stokes was “throwing confetti over his shoulder as he walks out the door”.
But the Australian Institute of Architects welcomed the Design and Place State Environmental Planning Policy.
NSW chapter president Laura Cockburn said communities across NSW would benefit from the proposed updates to the state’s planning processes.
“It is imperative that the planning and design of cities and towns evolves to address the challenges of climate change, as well as social and cultural divides, if we are to ensure a high quality, sustainable built environment legacy for future generations,” Cockburn said.
“People’s basic rights to access sunlight, ventilation, privacy and open space must be protected and placing good design at the heart of the planning process will significantly improve outcomes for our communities.
“The buildings and urban solutions we accept today directly impact on our ability to successfully navigate the key issues of the future—we need to design and build today for the future we hope to have.”