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On 9 January 2017 the NSW Government announced a number of proposed amendments to the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act 1979 (NSW) (EP&A Act). The Minister for Planning, Ben Stokes stated that the proposed amendments are aimed to “build greater confidence in the planning system by enhancing community participation, strengthening upfront strategic planning and delivering greater probity and integrity in decision-making”. To begin the process, Minister Stokes released a public consultation draft of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment Bill 2017 (the draft Bill) on 9 January 2017. The draft Bill will be exhibited until 10 March 2017 for public consultation and Council can make a submission in response to it any time before that date.

The proposed amendments have been an ongoing topic for the NSW Government since previous proposed amendments to the State’s planning laws were blocked by the Upper House in late 2013. The draft Bill if passed in its current form is likely to have significant impacts on local Councils and will create a number of obligations for Council.

Objectives of the Proposed Amendments:

The proposed amendments are extensive and the Minister has put forward the following as being the objectives:

  1. Enhancing community involvement in the key decisions that shape cities, towns and neighbourhoods;
  2. Continuing to improve upfront strategic planning to guide growth and development;
  3. Improving transparency, balance and expertise in decision-making to improve confidence and trust in the planning system;
  4. Creating a system that is easier to understand, navigate and use, with better information and intuitive online processes.

Impact on Council:

The following are some amendments that have been proposed in the draft Bill that may have significant impacts upon Council:

  • Each Council under the EP&A Act will need to prepare a community participation plan. The plans will need to set out how Council will engage the community in plan-making and development decisions and how the community can access information about planning proposals and decisions. The proposed amendments will detail a number of principles that each Council can choose to implement in the Plans where appropriate. The process will also involve Council having regard to the community participation principles that will be set out in the EP&A Act. Ultimately, Council will have the flexibility to apply these principles in the way that best suits its communities and developments in the area.
  • The Bill proposes to Standardise Council’s Development Control Plans. The NSW Government has indicated that it will work with Councils to develop an approach for how a standard form Development Control Plan could be implemented;
  • The Bill proposes to require Council’s to develop and publish local strategic planning statements. Local Planning Statements will be developed by Council in consultation with the community and will not be part of the Council’s Local Environmental Plan and Development Control Plans but will help explain them;
  • Making Planning Agreements between Council and developers more transparent by introducing a revised practice note, policy and planning circular that specifies Council must have regard to certain policies and procedures when preparing a Planning Agreement. Forming Planning Agreements will likely become more cumbersome on Council;
  • Creating clearer provisions for building regulation and certification by consolidating them into a single part of the EP&A Act. The amendments will make it clearer and simpler for Councils to understand the framework for building regulation.