THE New South Wales Government this week introduced a Bill to Parliament to repeal Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 and replace it with an alternative system for assessing projects of state significance.
Planning and Infrastructure Minister, Brad Hazzard, called it an historic step forward in the government's commitment to clean up planning and make NSW number one again.
However, the Property Council of Australia said the Bill undermines the independence of planning panels, while development industry group Urban Taskforce said the Bill goes too far in an effort to accommodate NIMBY groups.
The Bill establishes an assessment framework for state significant development and infrastructure. Projects that do not qualify as state significant will be assessed by local councils.
Local councils will now be responsible for determining significantly more projects, as the threshold for determining eligible state significant projects for determination by Joint Regional Planning Panels (JRPPs) has been increased from $10 to $20 million.
The government estimates that the number of projects to be assessed at state level will be reduced by around 50 per cent under the new assessment regime.
State significant projects will generally include large-scale essential transport and utility infrastructure, social services that deliver major public benefits, projects of significant economic benefit to the state or nation and complex projects which may cross over multiple council or jurisdictional boundaries.
"The new system will ensure the Government only gets involved in projects of genuine state significance and returns everything else to local government," Mr Hazzard said.
"Importantly, residential, retail, commercial developments, coastal subdivisions and marinas will now be assessed by local councils."
"To guarantee transparency and independence, as Planning Minister I will delegate determination of remaining private developer projects to the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) or in non-controversial cases, to senior officers at the Department of Planning and Infrastructure," Mr Hazard said.
Local government will also be better represented on Joint Regional Planning Panels (JRPPs) through a more consultative chairperson appointment process.
Property Council NSW Executive Director Glenn Byres said the undermining of independent planning panels was a blow to the property sector.
"Giving local politicians an approval role in selecting chairs effectively switches the balance of power on the panels in favour of local politics," he added.
"The move to increase the threshold on the independent panels also increases the role of politicians in development assessment."
Urban Taskforce's chief executive, Aaron Gadiel, said while the abolition of Part 3A was expected, the changes to JRPPs were not announced prior to the election.
"Most projects dealt with by these panels will be handed back to local politicians to decide," Mr Gadiel said.
"What's more, the most important person on each panel - its chairperson – now will only be appointed if they've been approved by the Local Government and Shires Associations.
"The panel's majority will be local government nominees, rather than independents."
Mr Gadiel said the changes to JRPPs, together with the repeal of Part 3A would further damage the state's supply of new housing, retail shops and new workplaces.