Councils will lost DA powers and IHAPs will be revamped

Planning Minister Anthony Roberts at a housing forum at menai this year. Picture: John Veage
Planning Minister Anthony Roberts at a housing forum at menai this year. Picture: John Veage

Councils will be limited to determining development applications (DAs) for new houses and extensions and little else under planning changes announced by the state government.

Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels (IHAPs) will determine DAs with a value of between more than $5 million but less than $30 million.

Applications for projects over $30 million will be decided by regional planning panels.

This increases the current $20 million limit.

The government said this would mean more decisions were made by the local planning panel or council staff.

IHAPS will become mandatory, and existing panels will be revamped.

Each IHAP will comprise three independent experts and a community member.

Minister for Planning and Housing, Anthony Roberts, and Minister for Local Government, Gabrielle Upton, said the government would set clear criteria for which development applications (DAs) are considered by these panels.

“Local councils will still process most applications for individual houses or alterations to existing houses,” a statement said.

The changes, which are in legislation to be introduced on Tuesday, are designed “to guard against corruption and lead to better local planning decisions”

Mr Roberts said that mandatory IHAPs would bring expertise, transparency and integrity to the assessment of DAs at the local level. 

“It is essential the government has a transparent and accountable process in place when assessing DAs of significant value, when there is a conflict of interest for the council or developer, or when they are of a sensitive nature,” he said.

“By making IHAPs mandatory, local councils will be able to focus on providing community services, strategic plans and development controls for their local area.”

A new Bill will propose a standard model for IHAPs comprising three independent expert members and a community member.

The community member will represent the geographical area within the LGA of the proposed development, to provide local perspective.

“Introducing IHAPs will provide additional safeguards, expertise and transparency into planning decisions,” Ms Upton said.

“We expect these panels to give communities and ratepayers greater certainty about planning decisions.”

IHAP members will have to be expert in one or more of the following fields: planning, architecture, heritage, the environment, urban design, economics, traffic and transport, law, engineering, tourism, or government and public administration.

The chair must also have expertise in law or government and public administration.

The panel members themselves will be subject to statutory rules such as a compulsory code of conduct and operational procedures for the panels.

What will panels look like?

Local planning panels will have four people.

The Department of Planning will set up a pool of experts, for example architects, lawyers or engineers.

These experts will be approved by the Minister for Planning, to ensure panel members are qualified and do not have conflicts of interest.

The council will choose two experts to sit on the panel.

Another expert will be chosen by the Minister to be the chair of the group and lead the meetings.

This person will have also worked in law or government.

A fourth person will be a community representative, chosen by the council to speak on behalf of the people who live in the area of the proposed new development.

Councillors and mayors will not be allowed to be on the panels in their local government area, as this conflicts with the aim of having independent experts make the technical decisions about individual applications. 

What will council and the panels do?

Council will focus on setting the rules for new development in their area. 

Most applications (around 95%) for new buildings, such as houses, will still be decided by council planners.

Local planning panels will decide the most risky or sensitive applications.

These are set out below:

What will local planning panels decide?

Value Development applications with a value of between more than $5 million but less than $30 million.

Conflict of interest

Development applications for which the applicant or owner is the council, a councillor, a member of a councillor’s family, a member of council staff, or a state or federal member of Parliament.

Contentiousness

Development applications that receive 10 or more objections from different households.

Strategic importance

Development applications accompanied by a proposed voluntary planning agreement.

Departure from development standards Development applications seeking to depart by more than 10% from a development standard.

High-risk development types

Development applications associated with a higher risk of corruption:

  • Residential flat buildings assessed under SEPP 65. 
  • Demolition of heritage items.
  • Licensed places of public entertainment and sex industry premises.
  • Designated development, as set out in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000.

Modifications

Modification applications that meet the above criteria.