Planning Panel to have public meetings only when a DA has 10 or more objections

Chair of the new Local Planning Panel, Donna Rygate.

Development applications across the Central Coast that haven’t attracted public attention will not be discussed publicly under new rules for Local Planning Panels that took effect from August 1.

The Local Planning Panel deals with sensitive, complex and high-value development applications (DAs) while Central Coast Council staff determine the more straight forward DAs.

New rules now require Planning Panels to hold a public meeting only when a DA has attracted 10 or more unique submissions by way of objection.

Panels must make determinations within two weeks of being provided an assessment report, which is written by the Council staff.

The Chair can allow applicants to attend a briefing, along with Council staff, to explain complex matters or present confidential or commercially sensitive material.

The chair is obliged to work with Council to ensure key issues are addressed during assessment in order to minimise deferrals by the panel at the determination stage.

The new rules now require the Panel to provide reasons for deferring a decision and set timeframes in which any additional information must be provided in order to finalise the determination.

The chair has the ability to require Council to report a DA to the Panel within four weeks for determination if the application has experienced unreasonable delays in excess of 180 calendar days from lodgment.

Also, only certain larger scale applications to modify development consents need to be referred to the Local Planning Panel.

Council staff will be delegated to deal with minor modifications.

Central Coast Council lost its planning decision making powers earlier this year when the State Minister for Planning, Rob Stokes, recommended Council adopt the Planning Panel.

It took councillors out of the equation on planning decisions.

DAs now either go to the Planning Panel for a decision or Council staff make decisions by delegated authority.

There is also the Joint Regional Planning Panel for regional significant proposals and the new rules also apply to that Panel.

In addition, the Regional Planning Panel can now delegate functions to Council staff.

Previously, any DA subject to a regionally significant concept plan was considered regionally significant, but now, Council will check that a DA is consistent with the concept plan.

Only a development that is subject to a regionally significant concept plan and is a regionally significant development in its own right, will remain a regionally significant development.

“The panels will help free up Council to focus on long term strategic planning,” Minister Stokes said when introducing the Local Planning Panel.

Cr Jane Smith raised the matter at Council’s August 10 meeting and said the new rules have the potential to damage community input.

A majority of councillors supported her Notice of Motion calling on Council to write to the NSW Minister for Planning and the Premier to express concern about the changes.

Cr Smith said that while the changes aimed at speeding up determinations of development applications, there were potentially damaging consequences for community input.

Council will submit a Motion to reflect these concerns at the next Local Government NSW Conference.

Merilyn Vale

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