New Local Planning Panel welcomed by business interests

Planning Minister Rob Stokes

Developers and the business community have welcomed the State Governments decision to introduce a Local Planning Panel (LPP) for the Central Coast in early 2020, but Central Coast Mayor, Jane Smith, says it is nothing but a power grab.

The LPP will remove another layer of decision-making from Council, leaving it with jurisdiction to decide only on developments under the value of $5M. Developments valued between $5M and $20M will be referred to the LPP for a decision, with those valued at more than $20M will go to the Joint Regional Planning Panel.

State Significant Developments will retain their own approval framework, separate to those two planning panels, and will continue to be determined by the Department of Planning. A Central Coast LPP will consist of a chair, two independent experts appointed by Council from a Minister endorsed pool of independent, qualified people, plus a community representative.

Clr Smith said the move was unnecessary and the latest in a series of moves by the State Government to take planning powers away from communities. The community could rightly be concerned, she said. Councillors are elected by the community to make decisions on (its) behalf.

The imposition of a Local Planning Panel removes power further from members of the community and erodes their capacity to have a voice.

Clr Smith has been part of Local Government NSW delegations to the Planning Minister and has spoken directly to him about concerns with the LPP. However, not all councillors agree with the Mayors stance. Councillors, Jilly Pilon, Greg Best, Troy Marquart and Chris Burke will put a motion to the Council meeting on September 9 that Council welcome the LPP, which they will say will allow councillors to focus on establishing the LEP, which is overdue, to set planning guidelines.

NSW Planning Minister, Rob Stokes, said the Central Coast LPP followed independent reviews showing that existing panels elsewhere in the State were performing very well to deliver better planning outcomes. Member for Terrigal, Adam Crouch, said the panel would bring greater transparency and accountability to our regions planning system and was expected to speed-up the decision making process.

The Central Coast is growing and the new LPP is needed to ensure that major developments are planned and delivered in a strategic way, he said. The establishment of an LPP for the Central Coast was a key recommendation from the major independent review of governance in the NSW planning system by former NSW Deputy Police Commissioner, Nick Kaldas.

Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council has welcomed the news. With 3,700ha of landholdings, Darkinjung is the largest non-government landowner on the Coast. Chairman, Matthew West, said that under the Darkinjung Delivery Framework, they were working with the NSW government to progress development projects such as housing, employment, education and training opportunities.

“We are very pleased about the LPP because it will ensure a greater level of transparency, accountability and expertise to the regions planning system,” West said.

Also in support of the move are the Gosford Erina and Coastal Chamber of Commerce and the Urban Development Institute of Australia NSW (UDIA NSW) Central Coast Chapter. Chamber of Commerce President, Rod Dever, said having an LPP would position Gosford and the Central Coast alongside other key development regions such as the Illawarra and the Lower Hunter. The announcement delivers a consistency in the development process; this can now remove the local blockages to progress, Dever said. Having a skilled and experienced panel of independent assessors is what has been missing from the region.

This panel will play a major role in making development happen and deliver greater confidence to those who are willing to invest in the region. UDIA NSW Central Coast Chapter Chair, Caine King, agrees. The LPP is designed to take the politics out of planning, which is a good thing, King said. The LPPs have generally been working well in Sydney, and its logical to establish an LPP for the Central Coast given that we are the States second largest council area.

The LPP should help realise the housing and employment goals of the Central Coast Regional Plan and relieve the burden on Council. That should help speed up the development approval process. NSW Labor supports the LPP in principle, but wants certain guarantees from Minister Stokes that the panel will comprise planning experts, community members and council representatives, and that local communities will have sufficient opportunity to comment on development proposals.

Sources: Media release, Aug 25 Member for Terrigal, Adam Crouch Media release, Aug 26 Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council Media statement, Aug 26 Greens MLC, Abigail Boyd Media release, Aug 26 Gosford/Erina and Coastal Chamber of Commerce and Industry Media release, Aug 26 UDIA NSW Media release, Aug 26 Central Coast Mayor, Jane Smith Agenda item 6.6 Central Coast Council Meeting, Sep 9 Journalists: Sue Murray and Terry Collins