Councillors go down fighting

Central Coast Mayor Jane Smith faces re-election on September 23, 2019.Central Coast Deputy Mayor Jane Smith . Archive 2019

Central Coast Council voted on Monday, May 11, to accept the constitution of the Local Planning Panel that will now take over the councillors’ previous role in deciding development applications.

But it didn’t go down without a fight.

Cr Jane Smith led the charge claiming that the planning panel was being forced on the Central Coast community and forced on the council.

She said taking away the Council’s decision powers was an abomination but, on the upside, councillors could now go out and fight against inappropriate proposals.

She accepted an addition to her motion from Cr Louise Greenaway that the motion include that “Council opposed the implementation of the panel”.

Cr Greenaway said she wanted it there for historical purposes because she had been contacted by despondent community members who felt the panel would make development decisions less visible, cost council more money and be less accountable.

Cr Smith put forward an alternative list of ten community members for the panel which only included one name from the list the staff had recommended.

Cr Smith’s list was subsequently adopted.

The people who will be invited to accept the positions include:

Anthony Tuxworth, Stephen Glenn, Lynette Hunt, Geoffrey Mitchell, Paul Dignam, Glenn Watts, Scott McGrath, Marc Elsie, David Kitson, Stephen Glenn.

The expert members will include Gregory Flynn, Sue Francis, Stephen Leachley, Linda McClure, Grant Christmas and Garry Fielding and were chosen by council from a field of 220 provided by the State Government.

Council kept the background of the appointees confidential in attachments provided to councilors but not the public.

The planning panel will comprise two expert members and one community member drawn from the above pools.

The chair, Donna Rygate, was appointed by the State Planning Minister Rob Stokes.

Ms Rygate has two alternate chairs in Mr Jason Perica and Ms Kara Krason.

The council also decided to make the appointments for 14 months rather than the recommended three years.

It asked the CEO Gary Murphy to monitor the panel and report back in July 2021.

Cr Smith thanked all of those people who submitted an Expression of Interest for the community member role.

“I know they genuinely have a desire to represent the interests of the community,” she said.

However, she had concerns about the process.

“The staff have gone through some kind of process to assess those EOIs.

“I am disappointed that we didn’t have more information about that process available to the Councillors – but we did get copies of the EOIs last Friday.

“Although I very much respect the staff’s recommendation it really needed that check with the Councillors to consider how the community’s concerns are going to be best reflected in that local planning panel, which is the purpose of that community panel member.

“Councillors are accountable to the community – the panel members are not – and I think that’s the great loss.

“The community should be rightly outraged by this process.

“Council will now need to look at its role in representing the community in this process.”

Cr Smith also said the outcome meant councillors could be much more vocal about inappropriate proposals.

“Because we are not the decision makers so we can be out there fully fledged and in full flight to represent the concerns of our community on this abomination that is the taking away of planning powers,” she said.

Staff were not able to respond to a question from Cr Jeff Sundstrom on how the panel would be accountable to council.

Cr Troy Marquart tried to get the original list of community names passed but his amendment was lost.

When the final vote was counted, he and four other councillors (Crs Greg Best, Jilly Pilon, Rebecca Gale and Bruce McLachlan) abstained while Cr Burke voted against it.

Cr Holstein did not take part in the debate as a family member had been one of the names staff had put forward for the community member.

That name was not accepted.

The planning panel will now decide development applications that are: contentious; depart from standards by more than 10 per cent; are sensitive such as those involving heritage, liquor licences, or have more than three storeys.

Council staff will deal with lesser developments by delegated authority.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast Adam Crouch says the Central Coast Local Planning Panel will bring greater accountability and transparency to our region’s planning system by making decisions on sensitive, complex and high-value development applications.

“This will free up Councillors to focus on the strategic vision, policies and development controls for the Central Coast community,” he said.

Crouch said Council was expected to induct all members by late May and is proposing the first panel take place in early June.

The establishment of a Local Planning Panel for Central Coast was a recommendation from the major independent review of governance in the NSW planning system by former NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas.

Central Coast Council Meeting May 11
Item 3.2
Media Statement, May 13
Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast Adam Crouch