Posted on July 6, 2020 by Katie Mortimer and Megan Hawley

Reforms to Local and Regional Planning Panels from 1 August 2020

Last week the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) announced changes to the operation of Local and Regional Planning Panels, to commence from 1 August 2020.

The key change is that local councils will determine modification applications for both local and regional development, except applications that meet the specified criteria discussed below. There are also changes to the operation of local planning panels (LPPs) intended to lessen the timeframes for determination of DAs. This includes new abilities for LPP chairs to work with councils during their assessment of DAs and mandate council staff provide an assessment report within 4 weeks if a DA has been ‘unreasonably delayed’.

The changes form part of the NSW Government’s Planning Acceleration Program that is intended to support the State’s economic recovery from COVID-19. DPIE has stated that the changes will ‘speed up’ panel determinations.

Certain Modification Applications to be determined by Local Councils rather than Local Planning Panels 

The Minister for Planning and Public Spaces has amended the Local Planning Panels Directions – Development Applications (DA Direction) and the Local Planning Panels Directions – Operational Procedures (Procedures Direction), with the changes to commence 1 August.

The amended Directions are not presently available online. DPIE state that the amendments to the DA Direction mean that LPPs will only determine modification applications lodged pursuant to s4.55(2) of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (Act) that meet the current LPP criteria for conflicts of interest, contentious development or departures from development standards.

Council staff will deal with all other modifications.

Changes to the Operation of Local Planning Panels

DPIE state that the amendments to the Procedures Direction:

  • require LPPs to make determinations within two weeks of being provided an assessment report,
  • require LPPs to only hold a public meeting where a DA has attracted 10 or more unique submissions by way of objection,
  • allow, at the LPP chair’s discretion, applicants to attend a briefing along with council staff, to explain complex matters or present confidential or commercially sensitive material,
  • require LPP chairs to work with councils during assessment to ensure that key issues are addressed, in order to minimise deferrals by LPPs at determination stage,
  • require LPPs to provide reasons for the deferral of a decision and set timeframes in which any additional information is to be provided in order to finalise a determination,
  • give LPP chairs the ability to require a council to report a DA to the LPP within 4 weeks for determination, if the DA has experienced ‘unreasonably delays in excess of 180 calendar days from lodgement‘.

New Power for Local Councils to determine Modification Applications on behalf of Regional Panels 

From 1 August, councils will be required to exercise regional panels’ functions of determining specified s4.55 modification applications. This will occur via an amendment to cl123BA of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000. 

Councils will have the functions of determining all modification applications except those that are specified in the new Instruction on Functions Exercisable by Council on Behalf of Sydney District or Regional Planning Panels—Applications to Modify Development Consents (Instruction).

The effect of the Instruction is that councils will determine all applications lodged under ss4.55(1) and (1A) of the Act.

Councils are to determine applications lodged under s4.55(2) of the Act, except if the application:

  • proposes amendments to a condition of development consent recommended in the council assessment report but which was amended by the panel, or
  • proposes amendments to a condition of development consent that was not included in the council assessment report but which was added by the panel, or
  • meets the criteria relating to conflict of interest, contentious development or departure from development standards set out in Schedule 1 to the Instruction,

in which case, it will be determined by the relevant regional panel.

Regional Panels no longer required to determine certain DAs the subject of a Concept Development Application 

Currently, any DA lodged pursuant to a regionally significant concept plan is considered to be regionally significant development, irrespective of whether that DA alone would be considered regionally significant development.

From 1 August, cl 21 of the State Environmental Planning Policy (State and Regional Development) 2011 (SRD SEPP) will be amended, so that DAs made pursuant to a concept development application will only be considered regionally significant development, if they are regionally significant development in their own right.

DPIE have stated that the change will allow regional panels to focus on ‘genuine’ regionally significant development therefore reducing determination times.

Delegations from Regional Panels to Council staff

DPIE have also announced that the Minister has given approval for regional panels to delegate directly to council staff any panel functions. We have not yet seen any instrument giving effect to this.

See DPIE’s announcement and the instruments that have been made below:

If you would like to discuss the changes, please contact Katie Mortimer on 8235 9716 or Megan Hawley on 8235 9703.