Who gets to make the decision on what gets developed where depends on a range of issues from the size, type, and monetary value of a development application. Depending on those factors it can be decided by council staff, councillors or the state government.
The question of what staff and councillors get to decide in relation to development applications (DAs) was raised as a Notice of Motion (NoM) by Tweed Councillor Ron Cooper at the Tweed Shire Council meeting on 18 February. He was seeking to address the council’s delegation of power, that is the giving the power by councillors to staff, in relation to approvals of complying developments.
Councillor Cooper told the meeting that ‘Councillors should be involved in making an informed decision on the issues [around DAs]. When things look bad we councillors get the blame.’
Up to $10m
Currently, Tweed Council staff have the delegated authority, via the general manager, to determine a development application if the value exceeds $10m without the need to report to a Council meeting. If there are ‘significant departures from Council’s adopted guidelines or policies’, a councillor makes a written request to bring a DA before council, or the Director of Planning and Regulation considers that there is a broader public interest, then the DA can be brought before the councillors.
Councillor Cooper’s recommendation, seconded by Mayor Chris Cherry, sought to amend the current delegation powers ‘in the interests of probity, transparency and accountability’. However, this met with strong criticism from councillors Warren Polglse and Pryce Allsop and a determined response from staff.
‘I’m seriously disappointed at Councillor Cooper,’ said Councillor Allsop.
‘This is a hijacking opportunity to make a statement. I think that is counterproductive. This has raised the hackles of staff to tackle them this way without a workshop or conversation. It is a little rude.’
Staff responded in the motion via management comments noting that ‘there is an attempt to provide some constructive criticism in order to improve the clarity of the current Council delegations relating to the assessment and determination of Development Applications.’
The comments were particularly critical of the suggestion that council staff were secretive or colluding with developers.
‘…any suggestion of “secrecy” or “collusion with development applicants” is totally without evidence or substance, and is rejected,’ stated the management comments.
Deputy Mayor Councillor Reece Byrnes was quick to suggest that the NoM be taken to a workshop for further discussion.
Mayor Cherry and Councillor Cooper both supported Cr Byrnes’ amendment.
‘Firstly I very much support the principle of this motion,’ said Mayor Cherry.
‘I am excited that this conversation is happening.’
Councillor Katie Milne said, ‘In defence of Councillor Cooper, the councillor has raised a valid issue and concern that has been recognised by our planning director.
‘We should have a policy as there are issues, and it is to be commended that Cooper has raised this issue for a way forward.’