On 16 December 2022 the New South Wales Government announced the Lismore Flood Recovery Planning Package which was a suite of measures designed to speed up planning processes and support flood recovery efforts.
One of the measures was the formation of a Lismore Local Planning Panel which is made up of independent experts and community representatives that determine development applications (DAs) on behalf of Council and provide advice on other planning matters, including planning proposals.
Even though this news went to Council last year, Lismore City Councillors only heard about it last week.
Council business papers say that the Local planning panel will allow independent experts to make decisions on often challenging matters relating to the major developments and rezoning decisions that will encourage a faster and more certain recovery.
The panel also allows the councillors of Lismore City Council to continue to focus on setting strategic direction and building community resilience following the February–March 2022 floods.
The local planning panel is made up of of independent experts and council or community representatives that determine development applications on behalf of the council. Local planning panels also provide advice on other planning matters, including planning proposals.
The panel will include four members: a minister-appointed chair with expertise in law or government and public administration; two independent experts appointed by Lismore City Council (from a minister-endorsed pool of candidates) with expertise in one or more of the following fields – planning; architecture; heritage; the environment; urban design; economics; traffic and transport; law; engineering; tourism; government, and public administration, and; a community representative appointed by Lismore City Council to ensure local insights and knowledge are considered as part of the panel’s decision-making.
Lismore severely impacted by catastrophic flooding
The NSW Government says that Lismore was severely impacted by catastrophic flooding events in 2022 and many people are still without a safe place to call home, hence the creation of new planning pathways to speed up and improve the predictability of land and housing planning processes is to support flood recovery efforts in Lismore.
Council staff have recommended that Council: constitutes the Lismore Local Planning Panel in accordance with the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979; appoints Mr Stephen Murray as chair and Ms Penny Holloway, and Mr Stephen Driscoll as alternate chairs to the Lismore Planning Panel; appoints from a large list in the papers, a community representative who has self-nominated for the Lismore Local Planning Panel, (subject to the outcome of mandatory background checks), and; appoints from a list of 22 independent expert representatives identified as potential members of the Lismore Local Planning Panel.
All planning decisions stripped from Lismore Council
Lismore Councillor Vanessa Ekins said that this means all planning decisions have been stripped from Lismore City Council by the State Government. ‘Developments will now be determined by a panel of four people including one community representative. There is little transparency or accountability in this process.’
The matter will be debated at Council’s meeting tomorrow evening.
Cr Ekins said she was aware of the panel earlier but its far-reaching powers only became apparent last week when the business papers were sent out.
‘Taking planning decisions away from councils is outrageous. We represent our community on these matters and are transparent and accountable.
‘Most recent controversial developments that were refused by council, after rigorous debate observed by the public, were upheld by the land and environment court and better outcomes for residents, roads, sewers, koalas and the environment were achieved.
‘We want liveable homes not development at any cost!’
Cr Ekins said she is worried that development will be pushed through and proper consideration of farmland, environment, services such as water, sewer and roads won’t be given enough weight.
‘But also, we need to be masterplanning for medium density with associated commercial and social centres. We know the future demand is for smaller housing as our households reduce in size. Urban sprawl is inefficient and damaging and won’t meet our needs into the future.
‘My other concern is that we relocate vulnerable people out of the flood plain and take their beautiful old rainforest timber homes with them. Land release by panel will open up farmland but will the people effected by flooding, benefit?
Tomorrow’s Lismore Council meeting starts at 6pm.
I’d prefer a panel of people with no vested interests over real estate agents and boorish facebook personalities deciding DAs.
At this point change needed to happen with our council, it’s dysfunction will be on display again tomorrow night at their meeting… in fights, personal agendas and egos will rule the first meeting of the year.
This diktat by the State would seem to impact on quite a few LCC planning decisions made over the last few years, including the recent Santin Quarry refusal.
I expect in the future quite a few developers’ projects will want to be re-evaluated under this new proposal – especially over some of the ‘green- tinged’ decisions made by a previous Council.
In our badly damaged area [due to 2022 flood] it would be fairly easy to maintain that any refused major development made in the past was essential for the revival of the Region’s infrastructure – especially over road-making and building materials acquisition.
So this new Panel proposal would appear to be a cheaper and more attractive option for developers (and LCC ratepayers) – rather than to take the matter to the L&EC or EPA on appeal. It would also give our “Worthies” on LCC more time from over-long & contentious planning matters and get onto their real priorities (the “3Rs”) working properly again.
It’s concerning that a disaster has led to the watering down of our democratic process. We have local councils voted in by the local community for a reason – so we have locals making decisions on behalf of and accountable to locals. We need strengthening of our independence and autonomy as a community – not weakening! This is a key problem identified with what’s gone wrong with SES and other services – decision making has been taken away from locals and that has led to really poor outcomes. Why are we letting that happen yet again???