NSW Planning Minister, Tony Kelly, yesterday stripped some of Cessnock City Council's planning powers, stating that there are serious concerns about its ability to exercise its planning role in a timely and effective manner.
An independent expert panel has been appointed to undertake the planning functions of Cessnock City Council for a period of five years. This follows Mr Kelly's request in May for the council to show why its planning powers should not be removed due to a history of delays in dealing with rezonings and development applications.
The independent panel will exercise the following roles of the Council:
- The assessment and determination of development applications with a value of more than $1 million;
- The assessment and determination of development applications with a value of more than $100,000 which are still undetermined 90 days after being lodged; and
- The amending of local environmental plans (LEPs) – i.e. assessing and determining rezoning proposals.
The panel will not be responsible for preparing Cessnock's new Council-wide local environmental plan (LEP), which will remain the responsibility of the Council, under supervision of the NSW Department of Planning.
"Council was asked to show it is on track to deliver the kind of efficient planning Cessnock needs and deserves", Mr Kelly said, adding that the Department of Planning was unconvinced by the Council's response and the large number of complaints about the Council's performance.
"Based on 2009/10 figures, Cessnock is again looking set to be the slowest of all Lower Hunter councils in processing DAs," Mr Kelly said.
"Cessnock has a very important role to play in the future growth and prosperity of the Lower Hunter and it's essential that is properly planned for and new proposals are dealt with in a timely manner so investment continues to flow into the region," Mr Kelly said.
Mr Kelly said there was a constant theme of unexplained delays and unresolved issues and that a number of proposals were also progressed despite inconsistencies and a lack of strategic justification.
Mr Kelly said he had little choice but to appoint the three-member independent panel to exercise Council's planning functions for five years.