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Byron Shire
September 22, 2021

Editorial: More planning staff needed to assess even more DAs

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When media were told that NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian would be at today's 11am update, we expected big news – the Premier said last week she would only attend the updates if it were important news.

It was another full Council agenda last week, with not just DAs being determined, but policies and reports a-plenty.

Buried within the Development Assessment eSymposium report, staff say that, ‘There has been a sharp increase in the number of development applications (DAs) received over the 12-month period to June 30, 2021. This has placed pressure on Council’s ability to meet the specified timeframes and expectations’.

The report makes assumptions for this pressure, including the booming property market and government incentives, but more importantly, limited and stretched staffing.

They write, ‘staff responsible for assessing these applications are under pressure’.

‘Additional resources have been sought, but not secured, to assist in assessing the increased application numbers. This negatively impacts the applicants because assessments are not as timely as they would expect’.

The Development Assessment eSymposium report was presented as an ‘opportunity for feedback through surveys (development assessment or building certification)’.

Public feedback included ‘Staff attitude and perceptions’, to which staff replied, ‘Planners are under constant demand given the emotional and financial pressures attached to development of any size, from both applicants and the wider community’.

‘Currently some planners are assessing over 60 development applications, this is way above the 25 suggested in the Department of Planning Best Practice Guide.

‘There may be a perception of oversight or over-zealous attitudes, but these [are] neither common nor deliberate.

‘Planners aim to do their best under the high-pressure environment of development planning in the Byron Shire. Planning staff over the past 12 months have also received letters of appreciation for the work and effort put in on various applications’.

Yes, indeed, many uber wealthy developers would be chuffed at Council waving large inappropriate DAs through at the expense of precious environmental credentials and less wealthy residents.

And this admission also suggests that the many planning decisions that have caused much community angst have been made in haste, and are therefore open to mistakes and may well lack thorough assessment.

But planning staff exercise ‘flexibility’ and discretion with planning decisions, and as such, there is no accountability for poor decisions.

The Councillors who control the chamber have never tried to improve accountability in this area (and many other areas), and have instead focused elsewhere.

Politics is, after all, a vanity project where community service comes second, if at all.

Despite the external planning pressures, staff say ‘development assessment timeframes for 2020/21 remain steady’.

For 2020/21, staff claim 962 DAs were received, and 806 DAs were determined. The average time to determine a DA is 59 days, say staff.

Full Council minutes are available at www.byron.nsw.gov.au.

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