Former Byron Shire Mayor, Simon Richardson, and Joe Vescio were appointed as community members to the Northern Regional Planning Panel at last Thursday’s Council meeting.
While Mr Vescio was re-elected as a panel member, it’s the first government appointment for Mr Richardson since quitting as mayor in April 2021.
His appointment raises the prospect that he will be part of a panel that decides on large developments that he instigated while mayor.
As Greens mayor, he caused division in the local party after moving to the right of politics. He also formed a friendship with locally-based Nationals Minister, Ben Franklin.
Towards the end of his mayoral term, Mr Richardson was successful in moving a motion to get staff to investigate housing above Council owned car parks.
At last week’s planning meeting, councillors heard from the NSW government’s developer arm, Landcom, regarding plans to build ‘affordable housing’ apartments above a Mullumbimby car park.
Landcom representatives told councillors the planning panel could be the consent authority if Council were the DA applicant.
What is a planning panel?
The NSW government takes the powers of DA consent authority away from locally elected councils when large DAs are submitted that are considered ‘significant’.
According to www.pp.planningportal.nsw.gov.au, planning panels determine developments with a capital investment value (CIV) over $30 million. Panels also determine DAs over $5m which are ‘council related, lodged by or on behalf of the Crown (State of NSW), private infrastructure and community facilities, eco-tourist facilities, extractive industries, waste facilities and marinas that are designated development, and certain coastal subdivisions’.
The effectiveness of panels appears to have become less relevant in recent years. While the most recent West Byron DA was flagged by the local planning panel as presenting a myriad of environmental and social issues, the developers took Council to the Land & Environment Court and their lawyers negotiated the DA behind closed doors. Concerns presented by the panel appeared to have been conceded by Council’s legal consultants, according to the judgement: Site R & D Pty Ltd v Byron Shire Council – NSW Caselaw.
The Northern Regional Planning Panel is one of four regional panels, while the greater Sydney area has seven panels. The chair of the Northern Regional Planning Panel is Paul Mitchell.
According to the NSW Government Boards and Committees Remuneration, administrated by the Public Service Commission, a Northern Regional Planning Panel chair receives $51,315 pa, while a member earns $39,463 pa. A panel member can also earn $1,435 per day under special circumstances.
According to LinkedIn, ‘Paul is an Australian and international leader in town planning. He has managed a number of major local and international consultancy practices and is a former CEO of CARE Australia and President of the International Council on Mining and Metals’.