Critics say a long awaited overhaul of NSW’s planning laws will silence local communities and create a developers’ paradise.
But the government claims the most significant revamp of the system in more than 30 years has public consultation as its centrepiece.
New laws will require the state government and councils to consult early with the community in developing the long term planning ground rules for their region.
But about 80 per cent of development proposals, including new homes and extensions, will be fast tracked under the agreed system and determined in less than 25 days.
Residents will be informed but not consulted about such projects, and the state’s 152 councils won’t have the power to knock them back.
The government estimates the process will save businesses and families about $174 million a year.
‘The community will be able to own this planning system. They will own what happens in their local area,’ said NSW planning minster Brad Hazzard.
But Greens MP David Shoebridge said the legislation was intended to benefit developers, while local councils would be ‘utterly sidelined’.
They will also be outnumbered by ministerial representatives on regional planning boards in a ‘four against one’ system.
‘Local councils will become government patsies. They will just implement the decisions being made by the regional planning boards,’ Mr Shoebridge said.
Opposition Leader John Robertson said the planning laws gave developers everything they wanted.
‘It will exclude local communities from having a say at the most critical point of the planning process, when the detailed development applications go to a council, and no one in the local community will have a say on anything.’
Mr Hazzard said a ‘modest levy’ would be imposed for the first time on builders of new homes and apartments in existing suburbs, to provide funding for schools, roads and other infrastructure.
The new charge would help spread the costs more evenly across the state.
Currently, only developers in greenfield areas need to pay such levies. The minister said the government was slashing millions of dollars in red tape, making new homes cheaper to build.
No mention of environment
Mr Shoebridge warned if the reforms became law, the first notice most people would have that a new house was being built next door ‘is when the bulldozers arrive’.
He added that the proposal ‘takes the environment out of planning in NSW. In two pages the premier’s press release doesn’t mention the environment once – the word ‘environment’ has been removed from the title of the legislation,’ he said.
He added the legislation ‘removes the rights of residents to have any say on up to 80 per cent of developments’ and that local councils ‘will be reduced to rubber stamping decisions’.
‘Developers will be given a free pass to make little or no contribution towards crucial infrastructure to accompany new developments, with new home buyers across the state being forced to subsidise endless urban sprawl.
Ray Donald, joint president of Local Government NSW (LGNSW), said the proposed processes were top heavy and the new emphasis on early community consultation may replace the rights of neighbours.
‘LGNSW supports the stronger focus on community engagement in strategic planning; however, we are concerned that this emphasis may unnecessarily replace the well established rights of neighbours to be involved with local development decisions,’ he said
‘We support a new planning system that listens to the voice of communities through the well understood councillor representation system,’ he said.
‘This provides transparency and accessibility to communities and a much needed “check and balance” to an overly bureaucratic system.’
He added that LGNSW will now conduct a detailed analysis of the white paper and the related draft Exposure Bill before giving their formal response.
The white paper is now open for community consultation for the next ten weeks. Legislation will be introduced to parliament in the second half of this year.
– with AAP