The number of development applications (DAs) that Council assess – be that lopping a tree, a house or a large development – has doubled in the past year according to staff.
Responding to claims of long processing times by former Greens councillor Tom Tabart (see earlier story), Sustainable Environment and Economy director Shannon Burt says, ‘Over the last 12 months, DAs received by Council have increased to around 100 per month (where historically they have been around 50) and many of these continue to be for significant/complex developments.’
‘As stated below on average the current determination time for a development application is around 52 days. However, this can vary depending on the nature of development proposed, the application detail submitted and the determination authority.
‘Notwithstanding the above, in an effort to improve our customer service, and further reduce DA processing times, a lot of work in re-organising DA support staff (admin support for the planners) has occurred to streamline many of the DA administrative and assessment referral and determination processes through automation and online capability.
‘We also introduced last year (for the first time) three tiers of customer support for planning matters and development applications including a routine pre-lodgement service, formal meeting with technical staff, and also a development assessment panel for more complicated proposals (www.byron.nsw.gov.au/publications/development-fact-sheet-development-support-services).
A further new initiative, just commenced, is the optional Development Application (DA) lodgement service. This service is aimed at reducing waiting times and assisting applicants in ensuring all required information is submitted at the beginning of the development process so it can be assessed as quickly and efficiently as possible. This service is available to all development applications lodged from January 1, 2017.
The service enables Council staff to undertake a formal review of documentation before accepting the application for assessment and determination. This will help avoid delays at a later stage as all relevant information and documentation is provided up front rather than being followed up during the assessment of the application. This service is aimed at reducing assessment times further for all. (www.byron.nsw.gov.au/newsletters/2016/12/19/preda-review-service).
Ms Burt also refuted the claim by Tabart that employing contract planners to cope with the load was not cost effective.
‘Council does engage contract planners from time to time to assist with any backlog of DAs,’ she said.
‘This is quite cost effective, because although DA application numbers fluctuate, we maintain our numbers of planners at a constant level. When we get peaks in the number of DAs submitted, contract planners are engaged for a short term to help with the extra workload. This is much more cost efficient than employing more permanent planners, as the cost of doing so is much higher given on-costs associated with leave entitlements, workers’ compensation, superannuation etc. The employment of temporary staff occurs under the award wage, and not for the amounts of money as has been suggested [by Tabart].’