Troubled shire LEP on hold

SUTHERLAND Shire's newly-elected mayor Steve Simpson has moved to distance himself from former mayor and Liberal Party colleague Kent Johns by withdrawing controversial attempts to overhaul the council's local environmental plan (LEP).

Councillor Simpson has abandoned the planned changes, known as amendment 20, to the existing Sutherland Shire LEP and called for a public hearing into the integrity of the plan-making process.

Cr Simpson was expected last night to move a lengthy and wide-ranging mayoral minute at a special council meeting one week after being elected mayor.

His election came after allegations were levelled at Cr Johns that he had looked after developers including some fellow Liberal councillors.

In his mayoral minute, Cr Simpson said "recent events" had led to calls for the draft LEP now on public exhibition to be abandoned.

"I do not believe that newspaper allegations should be used to destroy some five years' work by the professional planning staff and two councils of different persuasions," Cr Simpson said.

"The final decision on the content of the LEP will be made by the Minister for Planning and Infrastructure.

"However, it is essential that council presents a draft LEP to the minister which has integrity across the whole of the plan.

"It is also important that council restores the confidence of the community that the plan-making process is beyond reproach.

"We need to make change and [also] ensure our community has confidence that planning is transparent, fair and has integrity."

Cr Simpson went on to propose a number of actions he believed were necessary "to ensure the process has the trust and confidence of the community".

He called for a public hearing to address community concerns about the plan-making process which would provide the council with a "professional, independent review of the planning issues that underpin the plan".

"I believe the hearing should have broad terms of reference to review all aspects of the LEP," he said.

He asked that the Planning and Infrastructure Minister direct the Planning and Assessment Commission to conduct the hearing, most likely to begin next February.

He said this would mean that the council would "remove itself from the hearing entirely".

With regards to amendment 20, Cr Simpson said it was his view the council abandon the proposed changes "in order to restore the trust and confidence of the community".

He noted that the delay in finalising the new plan would inconvenience many, particularly those who had already lodged a development application anticipating the new plan.

He also moved to revoke recent powers given to the general manager to approve applications that complied with the new draft plan, and suggested code of conduct training be offered to councillors.

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