Last night’s Willoughby City Council General Meeting (20 April 2020) dealt with important community concerns about planning on which the majority of Councillors failed to act. Voting on the motion and an additional clarification were tied and the motions failed to pass.
Councillor Lynne Saville, with support from WEPA and others within the community, asked the Council to write to the NSW Planning Minister to seek assurances following recent Covid-19 related changes to planning legislation.
Councillor Saville had called on Council to:
1. Write to the Minister for Planning Rob Stokes MP and the Premier Gladys
Berejiklian to express its opposition to the recent changes to the Environmental
Planning and Assessment Act which grant the Minister unprecedented powers
to override planning decisions made by local councils.
2. Note that Council:
a) Recognises that planning decisions should be community-led and that local
councils are best placed to make decisions about planning that is
appropriate for their local area and constituents;
b) Understands that even in times of economic and health crisis, planning
approvals should consider the impact of development on the environment,
local communities or neighbouring residents;
c) Recognises that existing oversight powers are in place to make sure profit
motivated property developers don’t impose undue costs on our community
and environment; and
d) Recognises that extending permissible construction hours has the potential
to severely disrupt compulsory work and learn from home arrangements.
The Covid-19 related amendments made to the Environment Planning and Assessment Act will be in place for six months and can be extended up to twelve months. The legislation makes it clear that these amendments override any existing planning controls. Concern has arisen about the applications of legislation applying to developments other than hospitals, ICUs, morgues etc because of the broad wording of clause 10.17(5)(b) regarding “works necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of members of the public”.
Concerns about the usage of these clauses has been exacerbated in recent weeks by the Minister for Planning’s announcement (3 April) of a new Planning System Acceleration Program which will fast-track assessment of State Significant Developments, rezonings and development applications and, in particular, “introduce a ‘one-stop shop’ for industry to progress projects that may be ‘stuck in the system’”. The announcement suggests that more decisions will be made by the Minister if required.
This has coincided with NSW Treasury’s recent approach to the Urban Taskforce requesting a list of ‘shovel-ready’ projects which can be fast-tracked that are currently ‘stuck in the system’. Urban Taskforce in response provided a list of some of the most contentious projects across the Greater Sydney region.
WEPA acknowledges that there is a need for construction and other projects to be started to address the economic problems and hardships bought on by the current lock-down. However, we believe that the pandemic should not be used either to:
- fast-track controversial projects which have not proceeded to date because they are the subject of legitimate planning and community concerns;
- or to side-step legitimate community consultation on new projects.