Central Coast Councillors have voted to drop the number of objections to bring a Development Application (DA) before Council down from 50 to 15.
The vote was finalised during Council’s last meeting in 2017.
Under Mr Ian Reynolds’ Administration, the 50 submissions policy was adopted by Council.
The policy issue was raised as a “matter of urgency” by Councillor Jeff Sundstrom.
“From my contact within the community, during, before and after the Council election campaign, I have been approached by people that feel that it is over the top to have to raise 50 or more objections in relation to a DA that they’d like to see brought before the Councillors,” Clr Sundstrom said.
“This change is important because the will of the people is always important,” he added.
According to Clr Sundstrom, the majority of Councillors were in favour of lowering the number of objections needed to bring a DA before the Council.
However, it is understood that not all Councillors agreed that 15 was the most suitable buffer for objections to come before Council.
“Certainly 50 objections is simply a way of impeding those that may be adversely affected and favouring the developers.
“We looked hard at other Councils and it is clear that 15 is a good and fair number.
“Fifteen is not extreme.
“Other similar nearby councils operate from zero to 25 or so.
“I, in fact, started out at a figure of 10 within my group of Labor Councillors, 15 is already the result of research, collaboration and consultation,” Clr Sundstrom said.
Some Council staff have questioned the move, with Council’s Group Leader for Environment and Planning, Mr Scott Cox, claiming that the change in policy would delay determinations, with each application coming before the chamber adding an extra two weeks at a minimum to the DA process.
Clr Sundstrom conceded that the move could prolong the DA process, but insisted that Councillors worried about how much of their time this change could potentially eat up, should reassess whether or not they should sit on the Council.
“It has been suggested that it may add up to two weeks to the time it takes matters to progress to a decision.
“It’s no secret that we are moving towards two Council meetings per month this year, so I’d assume that the two weeks mentioned above (added time) will be negated in any case.
“In regards to the length of meetings, if matters that are raised through this change, that would not be raised at a requirement of 50 objections, prove to be frivolous or vexatious, I have the confidence that they will be dealt with by Councillors swiftly.
“If matters warrant longer debate then that is as it should be, that is what we are there for.
“It must be remembered that we have a gargantuan Council now, this is a direct result of the amalgamation.
“We have 15 Councillors doing the work that was done by 20.
“We have an expected population growth of well over 75,000 by the year 2036.
“I expect the workload of our elected Councillors will grow rapidly.
“If Councillors are worried that we are having to do ‘too much work’ maybe they should consider whether they made the right choice to stand?” Mr Sundstrom said.
Clr McLachlan had a conflicting view on the matter.
“The objections had been halved from formerly 100 under Wyong Shire Council, down to 50 under the Administration, and now down to 15 in the latest vote.
“Meanwhile any DA can be called up by any two Councillors for briefing and review, should they have concerns,” Clr McLachlan said.
During the meeting Clr McLachlan was in favour of lowering the number of objections down to 30, a threshold he said was a reasonable buffer that would satisfy both the public and Council staff, whilst protecting Council from becoming involved
“From the layman’s view, this the change appears as an increased voice for the community, however, Councillors are not trained town planners and should not impede the business of Council; and that includes allowing trained staff to carry out their duties under delegation.
“Trained staff conversant in planning laws are far better suited to handle unqualified objections.
“To lodge an objection one simply has to state: ‘I object’ with no clarification or reasoning to qualify as one of the 15 objections,” Clr McLachlan said.
Councillors now risk acting as a sitting board of directors, of a $750m enterprise, debating items, such as carports, while the major issues of employment, infrastructure and major community projects get pushed back in the agenda.
“Meanwhile, the public wonder why nothing major ever gets done on the Coast.
“We debated only one childcare DA in a recent meeting, which was unresolved, and that meeting finished in the early hours of the morning.
“Looking forward to the garden sheds and carports in future meets,” he concluded.
Clr Greg Best is also opposed to the motion and has issued a rescission motion on the matter, which Clr McLachlan and Clr Jilly Pilon have supported.
“I believe that the newly merged Central Coast Council and Councillors are charged with the task of setting the big picture and direction of the Council,” Clr Pilon said.
“One of the keys for the Coast is ‘how can we have a vibrant economy that creates more jobs so people don’t have to travel for work?’
“This motion of reducing DA submissions from 50 to 15 was called as an urgent motion by Clr Sundstrum, after midnight at the December 18 meeting.
“Personally, I believe this will have an adverse effect on our economy and jobs by adding costs,” Clr Pilon said.
“I have concerns about the implications that this will have on Council staff, resources, extra expense to ratepayers, slowing down DA approvals, costing people time and money.
“This will divert the attention away from creating real solutions around areas such as job creation and affordable housing for the Central Coast, and shift the attention to councillors conducting assessments of far too many DAs instead of leaving this process to highly trained staff qualified in this role.
“I also have a problem with this being sprung on Councillors after midnight without any prior discussions with Council staff to enable a briefing or report to Councillors on the effects of this motion.
“There were a number of us not in favour of the reduction who voted against the 15 submissions.
“Councillors are representing 365,000 residents in one of the largest Councils.
“This motion was brought in to give the community a voice.
“The fact that two Councillors can bring any DA before Council should be enough to satisfy those in the community who need to be heard with legitimate opposition to DAs,” she said.
“I have signed to rescind the motion together with Crs Best, McLachlan and Marquart, and now await a report from Council staff on the effects to DAs and extra costs involved.
“This is the reason we merged the Councils so that the region can move forward with one goal and a consistent approach across our region.
“As individual Councillors, we have varying perspectives of what’s best for the community as a whole.
“What we do have in common though is the job of overseeing a massive business which is set to deliver $551m in essential services and $207.9m on infrastructure, just in 2017-2018, for its growing community.
“Our priorities are not only to our existing community but to provide the necessary infrastructure to accommodate the expected growth of another 75,000 people in the next 20 years.
“If we are to adopt this reduction in submissions from 50-15, I fear we are losing sight of the big picture and not delivering what’s required on the Central Coast,” Clr Pilon added.
Meeting, Dec 18, 2017
Scott Cox, Central Coast Council
Interviews, Jan 16-17
Jeff Sundstrom, Bruce McLachlan and Jilly Pilon, Central Coast Councillors
Dilon Luke, Journalist