Council’s DA approvals still lagging

A graph showing approval rates

Central Coast Council’s planning department still runs behind the state average in the time it takes to deal with development applications (DAs) despite a flying squad from the State assisting it.

Staff from the NSW Department of Planning, Housing and Infrastructure (DPHI) sent to the Coast have helped with 200 homes but the funding for the dedicated flying squad is coming to an end, the department’s deputy secretary Monica Gibson said.

She was addressing the May 9 meeting of the Central Coast Chapter of the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA).

Gibson said the state average as of February 2024 was 114 days for assessing DAs, up 11.8 per cent from January.

The average for Central Coast Council as of April 26 was 133 days.

For comparison, Lake Macquarie Council was 86 days and Liverpool was 266 days.

Gibson said the department would evaluate the flying squad program and discuss what to take forward with budget decisions to be made in June for a range of high-DA councils.

Her comments to the UDIA came on the same day the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the latest national Update of Building Approvals data.

In a press statement released after the meeting, the UDIA said the figures showed the Central Coast continued to fall short in delivering on its housing needs.

“The data also shows a worrying trend that building approvals are not improving and shows that all typologies are still well below their peak,” a UDIA spokesperson said.

Figures for the Coast showed 1,600 total approvals in the 12 months to March 2024 which was an eight per cent annual rise but a 31 per cent reduction compared to the January 2019 peak.

Of those, 800 were detached house approvals which was a four per cent annual rise but 29 per cent lower than the November 2021 peak.

Apartments rose by 31 per cent in the 12 months to March 2024 at 550 units but that was down 45 per cent compared to the May 2018 peak.

“The residential rental vacancy rate is one per cent as of March 2024 (on the) Central Coast, well below the healthy 3 per cent target,” the UDIA spokesperson said.

“This indicates insufficient supply of housing to meet the current needs of the Central Coast community, which means the number the DPHI and Council are using to measure performance is too low.”

The UDIA says the DPHI has acknowledged that housing targets need to increase to meet the NSW Government’s commitments under the National Housing Accord.

DPHI will adjust the housing targets later this year, and the UDIA expects the target for the Central Coast to go up.

The UDIA said its analysis of ABS data showed the Coast was capable of delivering more housing.

“In 2018 and 2021, the Central Coast saw higher building approvals across apartments and detached houses respectively, demonstrating the region is capable of performing well above current levels,” UDIA Central Coast Chair Allison Basford said.

“But today’s ABS figures … show we are no longer at peak housing performance on the Central Coast.”

The UDIA said it was working to increase the attractiveness of the Coast for development investment.

As part of its advocacy with state and local governments to tackle the big issues to reduce the risk of investment, it has identified actions that will work to deliver better housing options when and where they are needed.

These include improving DA timeframes.

The time Council takes to deal with DAs has attracted a lot of criticism from the industry in recent years.

Some developers have DAs still with council after 300 to 600 days while others are taking their proposals to the Land and Environment Court after the “deemed refusal” period kicks in, meaning Council hasn’t made a decision after 40 days.

But if developers don’t take action within six months the window for a deemed refusal closes.

Council has also stopped regularly updating the community on DA times, arguing that the information is now available on the NSW Planning Portal.

Merilyn Vale