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April 23, 2021

Councillors ‘excluded’ in new planning system

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Tweed Shire Council fears the state government’s overhaul of the planning system will threaten local representation by reducing the role of councillors in assessing developments.

At an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday, councillors voted unanimously to endorse their planners’ submission to the government’s review for a new planning system.

The government’s ‘green paper’ aims to cut ‘red tape’ and delays in the planning system as well as involve the community early in guiding strategic planning decisions for future growth.

But the staff report, submitted by chief planner Vince Connell, concludes that much more clarity is needed for some of the major proposed changes to give confidence the community is being ‘adequately and fairly represented’.

But it was particularly critical on the issue of councillor involvement under the new planning system, opposing the ‘complete removal’ of their role in development assessment.

‘The proposed reduction in the role of elected councillors is considered to threaten the extent of local representation of local communities on major development and policy decisions,’ Mr Connell said.

‘This loss of community representation has already been experienced to date through the creation of Joint Regional Planning Panels (JRPP) to determine major development applications, whereby there have been a number of instances where the local community and elected councillors clearly opposed developments that were approved by the JRPP.’

’Depoliticise’

Mr Connell said one of the stated aims of the green paper was to ‘depoliticise’ the new planning system, especially in regard to assessing developments.

But with the proposed co-existence of the JRPP and other panels assessing major projects, he said it appeared the state government preferred ‘at this stage to ultimately exclude councillors from fully participating in development assessment processes, and establishing a role that focuses more on input to regional and local strategic planning processes.’

Mr Connell said if the government wanted to achieve its goals of a ‘transparent, depoliticised process’ it could do this by setting out ‘clear standards of performance and transparency to enable elected councillors to continue to participate in a development consent role for non-Code assessable proposals’.

He said councillors also should be represented on the proposed regional growth boards to give them ‘more meaningful input to the preparation of regional plans and subregional delivery plans, at the front end of the planning process’.

Critical

Mr Connell said this was a critical issue for local councils given the current review of local government.

Mayor Barry Longland said the change in councillor roles was controversial and would not be popular.

Cr Longland said that whereas the green paper indicated strategic planning would be brought under the control of councillors, ‘the actual decisions within that strategic approach would be left to unelected panels’.

‘I’m not sure whether the community will be totally onside with that view; the community would expect their elected representatives will make these grassroots decisions in respect to development,’ he said.

Submissions for the green paper have been extended to councils till 5 October, with the new planning laws set to be debated by parliament early next year.


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