A government review into the NSW Independent Planning Commission (IPC) has found the existing system should be retained to ensure the integrity of the planning system.
Several changes will be made to the IPC however in an effort to expedite and improve the Commission’s efficiency, including streamlining the IPC’s decision-making process to remove “bureaucratic double handling”, with the existing two-stages process to be scaled back to one, during which the existing public hearing process will be conducted.
Efforts will be made to improve the IPC’s relationship with the Minister, Department and other stakeholders, with the IPC Chairman to be accountable to the NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, currently Rob Stokes MP, and responsible for delivering agreed government objectives and performance measures.
The review, conducted by the NSW Productivity Commission, considered 147 written submissions, of which 94 came from members of the community and environmental groups., 38 from industry stakeholders, six from academics and nine from government agencies and local councils.
However, the revamp of the Commission will see some decisions taken out of its hands. Under the changes, the IPC will only assess and decide on the most complex and contentious applications, requiring a minimum of 50 unique community objections before it would be reviewed.
According to the Productivity Commission’s report into the IPC, the most frequently-raised issues included the role and purpose of the IPC; timeliness of decisions; the Commission’s relationship with the Minister, Department and other stakeholders; effectiveness of public hearing processes and the optimal composition of the IPC in general.
The report specifically outlined the urge to maintain the integrity of the planning system and ensuring the public’s confidence in the system was not questioned or compromised. A submission by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) highlighted the potential risks of corruption, which was addressed in the final report.
“The need to maintain community confidence in the NSW planning system is paramount. Trust in the system underpins investor and consumer confidence and is essential for meaningful citizen participation. As highlighted by ICAC’s submission to this Review, planning decisions can be vulnerable to corruption risk and perceptions of undue influence given the complexity of the planning system, the substantial economic and non-financial implications of some categories of State significant development and the discretionary nature of some planning rules,” the report said.
“Since their inception in 1980, there have been no findings of corrupt conduct involving members of the IPC or its predecessors, nor has ICAC received any complaints that indicate that corrupt conduct has occurred.”
NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, Rob Stokes, said the transformation of the IPC will ensure the creation of a system which works better for everyone.
“An effective planning system is vital to the health of the NSW economy and the recommendations of the Productivity Commission will increase certainty and confidence in the way planning decisions are made.”
The review into the IPC came soon after the Commission’s rejection of a major redevelopment of The Star Entertainment Group Limited’s complex at Pyrmont, which would have seen the construction of a 61-storey tower. A proposed 220-room Ritz-Carlton hotel would have been developed as part of the plan, along with 204 residential apartments, basement car parking and a neighbourhood centre for the Pyrmont and surrounding communities.