Joint regional planning panels

20 June 2011

The legislation introduced to Parliament last week (see above item) also winds-back joint regional planning panels, by generally stripping them of responsibility for private sector projects valued at less than $20 million.


Currently all projects whose value exceeds $10 million are decided by joint regional planning panels.


Joint regional planning panels consider reports prepared by council staff, but decide the fate of development applications based on their regional, rather than local, costs and benefits. The panels are currently composed of three independent members appointed by the NSW Government and two nominees of the local council covering the development site.


The proposed threshold change would remove 57 per cent of the private sector projects currently dealt with by the Sydney East Joint Regional Planning Panel and hand them over to local politicians. It would result in the Sydney West Joint Regional Planning Panel losing 50 per cent of its current private sector projects. The Hunter and Central Coast panel would be stripped of 47 per cent of its private sector projects.


It’s Act itself if being amended to enshrine the new $20 million threshold, making it very difficult for any future minister or government to restore the panels responsibility for $10 million plus projects. Such a decision would require approval, in advance, of both houses of parliament. It is rare to get that degree of political agreement to overtly pro-development measures. Sadly, however, the new legislation does allow unilateral ministerial action to further wind-back the responsibility of joint regional planning panels.


The government has not announced its intention on the timing for the change of threshold. Its worth noting that the bill contains no transitional provisions on this matter, so it is possible that when the change is introduced, it will apply to development applications that are already pending (although the government may seek to manage this situation by making regulations down the track).


Whats more, the most important person on each panel – its chairperson now will only be appointed if theyve been approved by the Local Government and Shires Associations. In practice the panels majority will be local government nominees, rather than independents.


While it is not in the legislation, the Minister says that he will establish a selection committee to advise him on the chairpersons and other joint regional panels. This committee will consist of representatives of the Local Government and Shires Associations, the development industry, the department and the Public Service Commission.

There is no formal announcement as to when the chairpersons appointed under the new process will take office. The latest date is likely to be in July next year (when the term of appointment of the current chairpersons ends). However the process may be triggered earlier if:

  • any existing chairperson resigns; or
  • chairpersons are removed from office by the Minister; or
  • the government re-structures the panels, thus creating an opportunity to appoint new members without the ignominy of overt sackings.


One reform that mitigates the other changes will be a new process that will apply when a council does not make a decision on a development within 120 days of lodgement.


The new process only applies to development that has a capital investment value of more than $10 million but less than $20 million (i.e. the projects being transferred from the panels to the council)


After 120 days, the applicant can request that the joint regional planning panel takeover as decision-maker (although the assessment report will still be prepared by council staff). However, if the chairperson of the panel determines that any delay was caused by the applicant, the matter will remain with council.


The Urban Taskforce has been very critical of the changes to joint regional planning panels (our media release is here).