NSW planning bureaucrats have defended the chair of an independent body that oversees large developments in the northern NSW region.
Headed by former Nationals Party MP Garry West, the the Northern Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP) is likely to decide upon the contentious Lennox Head ski jump proposal.
West was recently criticised by land and environment judges over his poor handling of a council amalgamation report in late March. It was part of the Berejiklian coalition government’s push to merge local governments.
According to www.governmentnews.com.au West filed a report to the Boundaries Commission recommending the merger go ahead, but the judges concluded that West could not properly assess the financial impact without access to the full KPMG report, which in turn meant the council had been denied procedural fairness. West also ‘failed to consider the impact of the merger on the 20,000 Hornsby Shire Council residents south of the M2 Motorway who would not be part of the new council.’
The Echo asked the manager of Planning Panels Secretariat Stuart Withington if the judge’s determination in any way affected his position as JRPP chair and, ‘How is appointing a former politician to this position considered an independent post?’
He replied, ‘The five-member panel, which includes three state appointed members and two council representatives, makes decisions after considering an assessment report prepared by council staff, reviewing written submissions made on the proposal and listening to those who want to address the panel at its public determination meeting.’
‘The NSW government has full confidence in the professional and independent chairing of the Northern Joint Regional PlanningPanel by Garry West. Panel decisions are made independent of NSW Government. The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has oversight over the conduct of the Planning Panels and its members.
‘The Planning Panels Secretariat and the Panel Chair take seriously upholding the integrity and reputation of the Northern Joint Regional Planning Panel. All members of the Panel are aware of their obligations under the Planning Panels Code of Conduct. The Panel’s procedures provide a number of opportunities for panel members to decide if they have a conflict of interest before a matter reaches the public determination meeting.’
The JRPP has an almost 100 per cent approval rate across all NSW panels over the last few years; the determinations are available on their website.