Property Council: Homeowners Want Major Development Out Of The Reach Of Councils

26/01/2012 1:38 am

Research from the Property Council  of Australia, a strong developer lobby group, finds that more than three-quarters of NSW homeowners believe that major developments should be out of the hands of local councils an be determined by an appointed planning panel of experts.

A survey of 1000 NSW homeowners conducted by Auspoll for the Property council found 78% wanted the joint regional planning panels to determine big developments rather than local councils.

These findings contradict the state government’s election promise of handing planning powers back to local communities, in the midst of a complete reform of the state’s planning system. The Property Council is seeking to have the three-year old joint regional planning panels retained, while local councils want the panels scrapped.

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald Glen Byrnes, the head of the Property Council NSW, said that the research showed council wanting the panels abandoned were “out of step with the communities they claim to represent”.

Mr Byres argues that developers and the community want a ‘depoliticised' and transparent planning system. “The community understands that is [development assessment] best delievered when an independent umpire acts as a guardian of the system and determines the fate of significant projects."

Regional panels were introduced by the former Labor government to make decisions on major developments worth between $10 and $100 million.

Cr Keith Rhoades, the head of the Local Government and Shires Association, said  the panels are undemoctraic because the majority of members are not elected but appointed by the state government.

“[The regional panels] undermine local decision making and local accountability and add another layer of bureaucracy and complexity to the DA process,” said Cr Rhoades. “The panels also place extra cost on councils as they are required to meet the administrative costs and fees associated with their establishment and servicing."

Rhodes, however, conceded that changes made to the panels in 2011, which involved increasing the threshold for projects from to $20 million, was an improvement.

Despite the strong statement from the findings, the research seems to mean little against  the strong mandate the people of NSW afforded Premier O’Farrell and his government to hand planning powers back to local communities. The  advantages of depoliticisation of the panelisation of the system for developers is also questionable, given the sometimes unpredictable decisions of the joint regional planning panels, which in some cases contradict Council assessment reports.

It is important to note that very few respondents had heard of the panels before they were explained to them by Auspoll during the survey. The survey also found that 66% of respondents supported forced amalgamations of councils.