The NSW Government’s introduction of a Local Planning Panel (LPP) for the Central Coast early next year is seen as a “power grab” by Mayor, Jane Smith.
The LPP will remove another layer of decision making from Central Coast Council, meaning that council will only have jurisdiction to decide on developments under the value of $5M.
A Central Coast LPP is expected to be in place by early 2020 and will consist of a chair, two independent experts appointed by council from a Minister endorsed pool of independent, qualified people, plus a community representative.
When in place, Central Coast Council will decide development applications under $5M and those valued between $5M and $20M will be referred to the LPP for a decision.
Developments valued at more than $20m will go to the Joint Regional Planning Panel for a decision.
State Significant Developments have their own approval framework, separate to those two planning panels, and are determined by the Department of Planning.
Mayor Smith said this “intervention is unnecessary and is the latest in a series of moves by the state government to take planning powers away from communities”.
“The community could rightly be concerned … we have seen the recent case of the NSW Planning Department overriding a City of Sydney decision to oppose a tower development at Pyrmont … and this calls into question the independence of our planning system,” Mayor Smith said.
“Councillors are elected by the community to make decisions on behalf of the community.
“We are accountable to them for the decisions we make.
“The imposition of a Local Planning Panel removes power further from members of the community and erodes their capacity to have a voice.”
Mayor Smith has been part of Local Government NSW delegations to the Planning Minister and has spoken directly to him about concerns with the LPP.
“I was hoping the voice of our community would be heard and it is extremely disappointing that the state government has moved this way,” she said.
NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes said the Central Coast LPP followed independent reviews showing that existing panels in NSW were performing very well to deliver better planning outcomes.
“The panel will free-up councillors to focus on the long-term strategic planning to lead the delivery of the region’s goals and priorities,” he said.
Liberal MLC for the Central Coast, Taylor Martin, said the Central Coast is the latest in a statewide network of LPPs and it would bring “greater transparency and accountability to our region’s planning system” and it is expected to speed up the decision making process.
“The Central Coast is growing and the new LPP is needed to ensure that major developments are planned and delivered in a strategic way,” he said.
Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council has also welcomed the Central Coast LPP.
With 3,700ha of landholdings, Darkinjung is the largest non-government landowner on the coast.
Chairman, Matthew West, said that under the Darkinjung Delivery Framework, they were working with the NSW government to progress development projects such as housing, employment, education and training opportunities.
“We are very pleased about the LPP because it will ensure a greater level of transparency, accountability and expertise to the region’s planning system,” West said.
NSW Labor supports the LPP in principle, but they want certain guarantees from Minister Stokes that the panel will comprise planning experts, community members and council representatives and that local communities have sufficient opportunity to comment on development proposals.
Wyong MP, David Harris, said LPPs were a key recommendation by former NSW Deputy Police Commissioner, Nick Kaldas, as a “corruption-proofing tool”.
His recommendation was part of a major independent review of governance in the NSW planning system.
“NSW Labor understands that LPPs will restrict corruption opportunities so relationships between developers and councillors cannot influence decision making,” Harris said.
“Panels need to be properly representative and truly independent to make the best decisions and the planning system needs to be fair for both community members and developers.
“Local residents continue to have concerns about planning panels, given the controversial decision to allow office buildings on Gosford waterfront, so it’s up to the Minister to create guidelines which put the interests of Central Coast residents before developer dollars,” Harris said.
However, Greens Central Coast spokesperson, Abigail Boyd, said “having the Minister approve most of the panel members should ring alarm bells for the Central Coast community”.
“The rolling disaster of defective apartment blocks shows that the government is mostly interested in lining the pockets of property developers and has little interest in protecting community interests,” she said.
“The government does not want community control of planning decisions, they want deals signed in back rooms.
“This is the opposite of increased transparency – it is yet another Coalition Government move designed to disempower local councils and the communities they represent.”
Media release, Aug 25
Liberal MLC for Central Coast, Taylor Martin, and Terrigal MP, Adam Crouch
Interview, Aug 25
Spokesman for Adam Crouch
Media release, Aug 25
Wyong MP, David Harris
Media release, Aug 26
Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council
Media statement, Aug 26
Greens MLC, Abigail Boyd
Journalist, Sue Murray