IHAPs Will Provide More Transparency: Urbis

Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels (IHAP) are now mandatory for all councils in Greater Sydney and Wollongong after the Bill passed the NSW Parliament last month.

The NSW Government introduced the Environmental Planning and Assessment and Electoral Legislation Bill, it says, as a safeguard against corruption.

New rules are now in place for certain development applications submitted to Councils in the Greater Sydney metropolitan area and Wollongong local government area. From September, development applications and applications to modify consents, will be determined by:

  • Delegates of the council (planning officers),
  • IHAPs, and
  • Regional planning panels

[Related reading: Councils Stripped Of DA Powers In NSW]

According to Urbis, the new legislation will allow for is a clearer and more consistent development assessment process in Wollongong and the Sydney metropolitan area.

We consider that the potential for corruption can extend to zoning decisions, particularly where development uplift may occur. It is our view that there should be a stronger role for IHAPs to also enable the independent determination of planning proposals.” – Urbis Insights

The councils that have an existing IHAP may continue to use them up until 1 March 2018. By that date the Wollongong and Sydney metropolitan councils must have an IHAP operating under the new procedures.

The state government is introducing independent assessment to reduce the potential for political or corrupt influences in decision making, with the intent to lead to better planning outcomes.

As a result, Sydney metropolitan and Wollongong councillors, including those to be elected on 9 September, will no longer make development decisions.

Councils will continue to make strategic decisions affecting development in their area, including the rezoning of land.

In January, Urbis advised clients of the NSW Planning Legislation Changes Ahead including the proposed introduction of IHAPs.

At that stage, IHAPs were not proposed to be mandatory but the Minister could direct them to be made. The final operational model and the provisions for mandatory IHAPs signals a stronger commitment to assessment transparency and procedural certainty.

For the councils that already have IHAPs it will be business as usual but under a new operational model.  For some councils, the new procedures will be more time consuming and may mean that some planning applications that were efficiently determined under delegation will now be determined by the IHAP.

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