PROPOSED legislation will make Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels (IHAPs) mandatory for all councils in Sydney and Wollongong to help guard against corruption and improve planning decisions, the NSW Government announced last week.
Minister for Planning and Housing, Anthony Roberts, and Minister for Local Government, Gabrielle Upton, said the government would set clear criteria for which development applications (DAs) are to go to the panels.
Mr Roberts said that mandatory IHAPs would bring expertise, transparency and integrity to the assessment of DAs at the local level.
"It is essential the Government has a transparent and accountable process in place when assessing DAs of significant value, when there is a conflict of interest for the council or developer, or when they are of a sensitive nature," Mr Roberts said.
"By making IHAPs mandatory, local councils will be able to focus on providing community services, strategic plans and development controls for their local area."
Mr Roberts pointed out that Wollongong and 15 Sydney metropolitan councils were already successfully using IHAPs on a voluntary basis.
The new Bill proposes a standard model for IHAPs comprising three independent expert members and a community member. The community member will represent the geographical area within the LGA of the proposed development.
IHAP members will have to be expert in one or more of the following fields: planning, architecture, heritage, the environment, urban design, economics, traffic and transport, law, engineering, tourism, or government and public administration. The chair must also have expertise in law or government and public administration.
The panel members themselves will be subject to statutory rules such as a compulsory code of conduct and operational procedures for the panels.
Ms Upton said the IHAPs will provide additional safeguards, expertise and transparency into planning decisions. "We expect these panels to give communities and ratepayers greater certainty about planning decisions," she said.
Councils will be able to share a panel to improve efficiencies and in the regional parts of the state, panels would remain voluntary. Local councils will still process most applications for individual houses or alterations to existing houses.
Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels would make decisions on the following applications:
- Value - Development applications with a value of between more than $5 million but less than $30 million.
- Conflict of interest - Development applications for which the applicant or owner is the council, a councillor, a member of a councillor's family, a member of council staff, or a state or federal member of Parliament.
- Contentiousness - Development applications that receive 10 or more objections from different households.
- Strategic importance - Development applications accompanied by a proposed voluntary planning agreement.
- Departure from development standards - Development applications seeking to depart by more than 10% from a development standard.
- High-risk development types - Development applications associated with a higher risk of corruption including residential flat buildings assessed under SEPP 65, demolition of heritage items, licensed places of public entertainment and sex industry premises and designated development as set out in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000.
- Modifications - Modification applications that meet the above criteria.
More information about the Environmental Planning and Assessment and Electoral Legislation Amendment (Planning Panels and Enforcement) Bill 2017 is available from the NSW Legislation website at <https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/>.