Councillors can no longer make decisions on development application (DAs).
The state government ordered, from September 1, all DAs be determined by council staff or planning panels.
Sutherland Shire councillors were shocked when they were advised of the change, which applies to all councils in Sydney and Wollongong.
“In a sense, the Pretorian Guard has gone from the shire,” said independent councillor Steve Simpson.
Labor councillor Barry Collier said, “Removing the right of democratically elected councillors to decide the outcome of DAs takes the ‘local’ out of local government”.
The change goes beyond what was widely understood when the government announced mandatory IHAPs (Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels) in August.
Under the legislation, DAs below $5 million would be determined by councils, those between $5 million and $30 million by a local IHAP, and more costly projects by a regional panel.
Shire councillors expected they would continue to be able to make final decisions on contentious DAs valued under $5 million after receiving recommendations from council staff and IHAP.
However, a department spokesman confirmed that power was gone.
The spokesman said the changes were designed to combat corruption and IHAPs would “bring expertise, transparency and integrity” to the system.
“IHAPs will become mandatory for councils in the Greater Sydney Region and for Wollongong City Council from March 1, 2018,” he said.
“Under these new provisions, councillors in Sydney and Wollongong will no longer be able to determine development applications.
“This function will be performed by either the IHAP or council staff.
“For councils that already had an IHAP, this requirement started from September 1.
“These existing panels remain in place until March 1, operating generally under their current arrangements.
“From March 1, councils with existing IHAPs must ensure that the membership and operations of their panels are consistent with the new provisions in the Act.”
Cr Simpson said panels would be making decisions based on DAs “ticking boxes” in the local environmental plan (LEP).
“The LEP is a broad planning instrument and doesn’t take into account particular circumstances, such as views, privacy, safety and amenities,” he said.
“We will have people from outside the shire ticking boxes when common sense might tell you otherwise.
”I think the Planning Minister has simply ignored the will of the people in the shire.”
Cr Collier said, “With councillors having no say in deciding DAs, the future of our shire now lies in the hands of a state government approved panel and council staff”.
“None of whom have been elected to represent the views and aspirations of shire residents and ratepayers,” he said.
“Indeed, three-quarters of the IHAP panel have no personal connection with the shire at all.
“Residents should not believe, for one moment, that the new regime will always produce better outcomes for shire residents.
“Only last month, the Land and Environment Court rejected an appeal by the developer after council refused a DA for a 141-place childcare centre in View Street, Miranda.
“In that case, Labor defeated the Liberals 8-7 votes and backed the residents over recommendations by both IHAP and council staff that the DA be approved.
“That kind of result simply will not happen under the new regime.”