Department of Planning criticised for lack of transparency

(left) The proposed St Hilliers Mann St development (Right) The Lederer Group’s proposed development on the former Kibbleplex site(left) The proposed St Hilliers Mann St development (Right) The Lederer Group’s proposed development on the former Kibbleplex site

An Executive Member of the Community Environment Network (CEN) has criticised the State Government for not allowing enough time for community feedback on Development Applications (DAs) being assessed for approval as State Significant Developments.

CEN Executive Member, Michael Conroy, said proposals for the Kibbleplex site on Henry Parry Dr, Gosford and the St Hilliers’ development in Mann St were two cases in point.

“CEN considers that the NSW Government is only going through the motions of the public participation process that is required under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, while minimising the window of opportunity for Central Coast Council and community groups to make submissions to this process, ” Conroy said in a letter to the editor.

He said that while both DAs had been exhibited for the legal minimum of 28 days from October 11, the scale of the proposals and the number of documents involved did not allow adequate time for community comment.

“The development proposed on the Kibbleplex site would be the largest private sector development in Gosford; it is estimated to have a capital cost of $345M and its five residential towers (and podium) would have a gross floor area of 73,000 square metres, ” Conroy said. “

The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for this proposal contains 129 pages and has 20 technical appendices (such as traffic, water cycle, visual impact etc).

“The St. Hilliers’ development is estimated to have a capital cost of $165M and would have just over half the floorspace of the Kibbleplex development (40,000 square metres) in its hotel and two residential towers “The EIS for this proposal contains 104 pages and 23 appendices.

“With all the resources and professional expertise available at Central Coast Council, the Council officers only completed their submissions on the hundreds of pages in the Environmental Impact Statements and 43 appendices in the first week in November, with submissions closing on November 7. ”

Conroy said if members of the public wished to make a submission on line after digesting the hundreds of pages of technical information, the Department specified that they should: create a user account on the Department’s Major projects website; click the ‘Have Your Say’ link; find the project concerned; and Click the ‘Make a Submission’ icon, all after reading the Department’s privacy statement.

“It is not surprising that the only community group which … had the time and patience to successfully make an online submission was the Community Environment Network, ” he said. “No individual members of the public made a submission on two of the largest developments proposed in the Gosford City Centre. “CEN considers that the Department’s exhibition of these two applications for State Significant Development in Gosford City Centre has failed to implement community participation principles. ”

He said according to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act: the community has a right to be informed about planning matters that affect it and planning authorities should encourage effective and ongoing partnerships with the community to provide meaningful opportunities for community participation in planning; planning information should be in plain language, easily accessible and in a form that facilitates community participation in planning, and the community should be given opportunities to participate in strategic planning as early as possible to enable community views to be genuinely considered; community participation should be inclusive; and planning authorities should actively seek views that are representative of the community.

But a spokesperson from the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said the department’s approach for DAs in the Central Coast region was “consistent with all of our projects across NSW”.

“The community is the heart of everything the department does and we always invite the community to comment on all major projects under assessment, ” the spokesperson said. “The development applications (DAs) mentioned were exhibited for 28 days from Friday, October 11, until Thursday, November 7. “All DAs and State Significant Development applications are exhibited for 28 days and rarely does the department extend this timeframe. “The department will now collate submissions and then the applicants will be required to respond to community concerns raised.

“This report will be publicly available on the department’s major projects website. ” Unfortunately, the department’s approach for DAs in the Central Coast region does not include advertising development applications for major developments being on exhibition in any of Central Coast Newspapers’ publications, leaving it up to residents to have to find out somehow in time to react before the exhibition period closes, according to Cec Bucello, CEO, Central Coast Newspapers.

Source: Letter to the editor, Nov 26 Michael Conroy, Executive Member, Community Environment Network Media statement, Nov 28 Department of Planning, Industry and Environment