Council to resist compulsory introduction of Independent Hearing Assessment Panels

Central Coast Council is set to go into battle to retain its planning powers, with the passing of a resolution at its January 29 meeting to resist the introduction of an Independent Hearing Assessment Panel (IHAP) for the region.
Mayor Jane Smith put up a successful Mayoral Minute, with councillors resolving to support Local Government NSW’s campaign against the compulsory introduction of IHAPs to local government areas.
The panels, each comprising a chair, two independent expert members and a community member, assess Development Applications (DAs) made to local councils and were made mandatory for all Sydney Councils and Wollongong City Council from March 1, 2018.
According to the NSW Department of Planning, they are put in place so the process of assessing and determining DAs with a high corruption risk, sensitivity or strategic importance are transparent and accountable.
The NSW Government now wants to extend the panels to Newcastle and the Central Coast, but Smith said the introduction of a panel on the Coast would cost Council money and reduce its level of service delivery to the community.
“This is an issue of concern to councillors all over the state,” Smith said.
“We want to see legislation changed so these panels are not mandatory.
“Some councils might benefit from expert input, but basically, they are taking planning powers away from communities.
“A key consideration for any DA should be public interest, and democratically elected representatives are best placed to consider that.”
Smith said it was worth noting that the current State Government made a pre-election promise of returning powers to councils.
She stressed that ratepayers would be expected to pay for the cost of establishing and running the panel, which has been estimated at a cost of $100,000 per year, but would probably cost more on the Central Coast due to the number of applications regularly received.
Council would also be required to cover court costs if IHAP decisions were challenged by applicants, even though Council would not have been the decision making authority.
Despite complaints from, Councillor Greg Best, that councillors had been given only five days to consider the Mayoral Minute, and an unsuccessful amendment to provide a more considered response to the complex Kaldos Report which recommended IHAPs to the Minister for Planning, councillors voted to move immediately.
They resolved that Council would reaffirm its position that it must be the decision maker for all planning matters on the Central Coast that aren’t subject to determination by the Hunter and Central Coast Regional Planning Panel and oppose the introduction of an IHAP for the Central Coast.
Council also resolved to work with Local Government NSW and other councils to campaign to restore planning powers to communities.
Council will write to the Minister for Planning and local State MPs and candidates on the Central Coast calling for pledges for a reform of the NSW planning system to restore the right of councils to choose whether to use local panels.

Agenda item 1.4
Central Coast Council meeting, Jan 29
Interview, Jan 30
Central Coast Mayor, Jane Smith
Reporter: Terry Collins

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