A REPORT released last week by the NSW Auditor-General, Margaret Crawford, has found that the Planning Assessment Commission has improved its decision-making processes for major development applications in recent years.
The Commission is an independent body established in 2008 under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 and makes decisions on major development applications in NSW.
According to the report, the Commission has improved how it consults the public and manages conflicts of interest, and now also publishes records of its meetings with applicants and stakeholders.
However, the Auditor-General also found that there are still some vital issues to be addressed to ensure it makes decisions in a consistent and transparent manner.
"Most importantly, the Commission was not able to show in every decision we reviewed how it met its statutory obligation to consider the likely environmental, social and economic impacts of a development as required under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979," the Auditor-General said.
"Despite improved probity measures put in place by the Commission, there is a perception among some stakeholders that it is not independent of the Department of Planning and Environment," however the Auditor-General said the reasons for some of these concerns are outside of the Commission's control.
"For example, the Commission becomes involved after the Department has prepared an assessment report which recommends whether a development should proceed. This creates the perception that the Commission is acting on the recommendation of the Department.
"The Department's assessment report should state whether an application meets relevant legislative and policy requirements, but not recommend whether a development should be approved or not."
The report also states that more can also be done to improve transparency in decision-making and the public's perception of the independence of Commissioners.
The report recommends the Commission should improve how it communicates the reasons for its decisions and also publish on its website a summary of Commissioners' conflict of interest declarations for each development application.