Major developments decided without oversight

Hans Lovejoy

The independence of a planning panel which decides developments too large for councils has been defended by the NSW planning department.

Major developments valued at more than $20 million are decided by the Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP), yet according to its website, there has been nearly a 100 per cent approval rate since 2013. Additionally it appears the panel has no committee oversight.

Four regional panels were established in 2009 ‘to strengthen decision making on regionally significant development applications (DAs) and certain other planning matters.’

In November 2016, six Sydney Planning Panels (SPPs) were created, replacing the Sydney East and Sydney West JRPPs.

According to the JRPP website, 56 major developments have been approved since 2013, with one rejection and three deferrals.

The Echo asked the planning department how the panel could be considered independent, considering the Northern panel is chaired by a former National Party MP and all panels have approved almost everything that comes before them.

Nearly 100 per cent approval

A spokesperson told The Echo panels ‘are led by an independent chair that has been appointed with the agreement of [the peak body representing councils] Local Government NSW and have four other members, with the NSW government and local councils each appointing two representatives.’

‘Panel members are appointed based on their expertise in either planning, architecture, heritage, the environment, urban design, land economics, traffic and transport, law, engineering, tourism or government and public administration.

‘Planning panels are an important part of the planning system – ensuring independent decisions are made on projects that are significant to local communities.

‘All panel members are subject to a code of conduct, and obligations under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act).

‘To ensure independence, alternate members are also appointed for when a member needs to sit out on a decision because of a conflict of interest.

Previous local decisions by the northern panel include the North Byron Parklands festival trial in Yelgun and the Byron Bay bypass.

The Echo understands that the panel will be asked to soon decide upon a controversial food-processing factory proposal, which would be located opposite the Bangalow industrial estate on Lismore Road.

• Previous questions regarding the JRPP’s independence to the JRPP and planning minister Rob Stokes’s office remain unanswered. Mayor Simon Richardson previously told The Echo he ‘agrees that the JRPP is a flawed process.’

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