The Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment Bill 2017 (NSW) has extended the opportunity for community consultation until Friday 31 March 2017. The Government will then introduce a revised Bill to Parliament.
The Bill will overhaul planning law in NSW and therefore design of the Act will have significant implications for social, environmental and economic conditions connected to development in NSW in the future. The object of the proposed Bill (amending s 5) will restore social, environmental and economic value of developments to be facilitated as equal in value, rather than simply encouraging the consideration of these aspects in decision making. This is a positive step towards international standards, however, the Bill fails to go one step further by omitting mention of climate change in the objects clause of the Bill. The objects clause drives the overall interpretation of the Act and therefore the absence of climate change means there is no impetus or guideline for decision makers on how to deliver on the NSW State goal of net zero emissions by 2050.
The Bill has emphasised the necessity of early and extensive public consultation. Community Participation Plans (CCPs) will be required for local developments drafted by planning authorities. CPPs devise how and when the public can participate in the planning process and go toward ensuring transparency and accountability in decision making. Although these local planning authorities will have autonomy over the design of the Community Participation Plans, the Act imposes minimum standards for some aspects such as exhibition and notification of plans to the community. They will also be underpinned by community planning standards, although these are a consideration, not binding.
This goal of increased public participation is contradicted by the removal of community appeal rights. Under the Bill, merits appeal of decisions will remain excluded regarding public hearings held by the Planning and Assessment Commission, which will be renamed as the Independent Planning Commission. Not only does this restrict the opportunity for public engagement in the process, it also removes an important accountability measure for decision making, and additionally decreases public trust of the process.
Finally, although Part 3A was repealed in 2011, transitional projects that were already lodged prior to repeal were continued to be considered under the old laws. This reform will ensure all transitional projects will now be dealt with under s 96, which is a far more rigorous process of approval for state significant developments.
Whilst there are some progressive aspects of the Bill put forward by the State Government, there remains some outstanding opportunities that have been missed. Public submissions remain open until the end of the month. The Bill can be read, and submissions can be made, here.
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