Sydney City Councils power to play politics must end

12 May 2009

Sydney City Council politicians should not be given special rights to block development proposals worth $10 million to $50 million, when all other local politicians are surrendering this power to independent panels, according to the Urban Taskforce.

The Taskforces chief executive, Aaron Gadiel, said the Department of Planning is proposing to exempt the Sydney City Council from planning reforms passed by Parliament last year.


The Sydney City Council is the last place that should be exempt from planning reform, Mr Gadiel said. Its an area where reform will have the greatest benefit to the community.


Mr Gadiel said the City of Sydney is not handling large projects well.


It takes the council an average of 8 months to handle development applications of more than $30 million, Mr Gadiel said.


Even more modest projects valued between $5 million to $20 million take the Council an average of 6 months to process.


These are the average times only – many projects are held up for much longer.


Mr Gadiel said the quality of the Councils decision-making process also leaves a lot to be desired.


Last financial year, the Council lost 75 per cent of its appeal cases while councils in general, lost only 48 per cent of their cases.


Ratepayers end up paying to defend flawed, and often political, decisions.


Mr Gadiel said that since the global financial crisis began to hit hard, projects in the City of Sydney have increased in relative economic importance.


In the last 9 months the City of Sydney accounted for 18 per cent of NSWs approved development totalling $2 billion in value, he said.


This is a dramatic increase from last financial year when the City accounted for just 12 per cent of NSWs approved development.


Demand for new residential and retail development in the Sydney City Council area is still reasonably strong, compared to the rest of NSW.


Mr Gadiel said the Department of Plannings proposal to allow City of Sydney politicians to continue to decide the future of development applications of more than $10 million is inexplicable.


The Department of Planning should impose the same restrictions on the City of Sydney that its imposing on all councils from July.


New joint regional planning panels will take over decisions for important local projects.


Under the new legislation, three of the five member regional panels will be independent experts and councils will appoint the other two.


“If you have a $10 million to $49 million project in Marrickville, Leichhardt or Woollahra it will be dealt with by an expert panel at arm’s length from the political process, but in the City of Sydney, it will be decided by local politicians.


The new panel system will help corruption-proof our planning system a wider role for panels in local development decisions was recommended by the Independent Commission Against Corruption in its final report on the Wollongong scandal last year.


Of 78 development applications on exhibition this week, two would be determined by a regional planning panel if the planning reforms are implemented.


The Urban Taskforce is a property development industry group, representing Australias most prominent property developers and equity financiers.


For every $1 million in construction expenditure, 27 jobs are created throughout the broader economy. The construction activity made possible by property developers contributes $69 billion to the national economy each year and creates 709,000 direct jobs. The construction industry is Australias third largest source of employment.



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