Get your own ideas!

On 26 July the last depaNews was published proposing cutting councillors out of development assessment. We gave plenty of good reasons and dared you all to give us three good reasons why councillors should have anything to do with considering a DA.

We didn’t receive one good reason. And that included us broadcasting the issue to the board of LGNSW who, neither collectively nor individually, could come up with a good reason and convey it to us. They were speechless.

In the interests of disclosure though, one of our members provided two good reasons - first, “because it is so often immensely amusing” and second, because “they make planners feel smart”. Yes we know, that really goes without saying, doesn’t it.

But clearly we started something didn’t we. The following day the Government made two announcements about local government.

The first, and most relevant to what had been an unshakeable commitment by the NSW Government while Mike Baird was Premier, was to announce the abandonment of those amalgamations that were pending and the subject of a variety of litigation. Not for Gladys any conviction when it’s unpopular, if it’s unpopular then it’s time to abandon it.

And we would assume that because the legal challenges were primarily about the failure of the Government it was never going to end well. Who needs to get rolled in the High Court because the authoritarian bureaucrats in the Department of Premier and Cabinet insisted the financial analysis in the KPMG report had to be confidential, raising issues of procedural fairness. And potentially the same bureaucrats couldn’t find the right part of the Local Government Act to amalgamate one local government area and the remainder of another, once a section was “excised“ from Hornsby and given to Parramatta City. Not a lot of smart people involved in those decisions.

And the second, and most relevant to our proposed course of action, was the announcement that Cabinet that day was going to consider “stripping councils of DA approval powers”. While the Herald did claim that it would be “reconsideration” (because there had been rumours of this occurring back in May but the Government not having the appetite for it) that doesn’t really count.

The expose in the Sydney Morning Herald about the ongoing ICAC investigation into planning decisions at the former Canterbury Council was the catalyst. The Government had to think again about the issue but with a reasonable expectation of some kind of emotional support from the Opposition. As the Herald made clear, those planning decisions, rejecting the recommendations of staff, were made by an untraditional alliance of ALP and Liberal councillors - add a couple of floors here, blow out the floor space ratio there, on and on.

But, that will teach us, next time we’ll shred all of those brainstorming documents we have about building a better world now we know they go through our recycling.

The Herald was right, Cabinet did consider establishing IHAPs on 27 July but the decision was deferred - they say, to allow consultation with the developers (that is, the Property Council), the ICAC and local government. Whether they did, or whether they didn’t, the Minister for Planning and Minister for Housing Anthony Roberts and the Minister the Local Government Gabrielle Upton were able to jointly announce on 8 August that IHAPs would be introduced for Sydney councils.

The Government claimed that Wollongong and 15 Sydney Metropolitan councils were already voluntarily and successfully using IHAPs and the Bill to be introduced into parliament would make it mandatory for all councils in the Greater Sydney area and Wollongong, because Wollongong wanted to be part of it.

While a real independent IHAP would be a qualitative and significant improvement in the assessment and consideration of DAs, and where we are entitled to expect significant levels of acceptance of the recommendations of planning staff, just who the Government thinks will be “independent” enough is their next challenge.

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