Inquiry into planning panel member's perceived conflict of interest in hotel decision

The actions of a member of a planning panel, which recommended a rethink of a proposal for a new hotel at Cronulla, are being investigated after the discovery he had a perceived conflict of interest.

Sutherland Shire Council general manager Manjeet Grewal initiated the inquiry under state laws.

The move followed the shock revelation the wife of David Russell, a community representative on the Sutherland Shire Local Planning Panel, owns a unit in a building near the proposed development site on the edge of Monro Park.

Panel chair Jason Perica announced that, due to a perceived conflict of interest, the panel's decision had been set aside and the rezoning proposal would be considered by a new panel.

The Sammut Developments proposal, which was considered on December 17, seeks to increase the allowable building height for one section of the site from 25 metres (in the LEP) to 50 metres and increase the floor space ratio from 2:1 to 3.75:1.

The proposed development would include commercial offices and hotel hospitality in a three storey podium.

The panel recommended the project be reconsidered because of "significant issues", including the "massive" appearance of the tower next to smaller buildings and overshadowing of the park and war memorial.

Minutes of the meeting stated, "There were no declarations of interest made at the meeting".

A council spokeswoman said council officers brought the perceived conflict of interest to the chair's attention after the meeting.

This had "resulted from officers having contact with the community representative through the determination of another development application in Cronulla", she said.

Under the legislation governing the panel's operations, the chair is responsible for the management of the panel's functions and operations, including managing conflicts of interest.

The council's chief executive is responsible for the management of the code of conduct complaints about panel members and for determining the outcomes of such complaints.

"No formal code of conduct complaint has been made to the CEO," the spokeswoman said.

"However, in accordance with section 10.8 of the Code, where the CEO becomes aware of a possible breach by a panel member of the Code of Conduct, she may initiate the process for consideration without a written complaint. This process has commenced."

The planning panel's website lists Mr Russell's occupation as an architect.

In his pecuniary interests disclosure, Mr Russell says he owns one Cronulla property and is the joint owner of another. The addresses are redacted.

It is understood the perceived conflict of interest relates to another property owned by his wife. There is no requirement for interests of any family member to be disclosed on the register.

The Environmental Planning and Assessment Act gives local planning panels the function of council as a consent authority.

The panel determines development applications (DAs) in its own right. It does not report to the minister, Department of Planning, Indusrry and Environment or council.

Appeals to a panel decision need to be made to the Land and Environment court.

The panel also advises councils on Planning Proposals, such as that for the Monro Park hotel.