NSW Planning Reforms

Changes to Planning Legislation

NSW Parliament passed amendments to planning legislation on 15 November 2017. Following a long consultation period, the Environmental Planning and Assessment (EP&A) Amendment Bill 2017 has introduced changes to the planning system which will affect development assessment, local plan-making, community participation, and decision-making processes.

Details are available on the DP&E web site

Key changes relevant to councils

The amendment bill includes the following changes which were part of a consultation package exhibited in early 2017:

  • Introduction of ‘local strategic planning statements’ which councils will be required to prepare for their areas
  • Requirements for councils and planning authorities to prepare a community participation plan explaining how it will engage the community in plan making and development decisions;
  • A requirement for decision makers to provide reasons for their decisions has been incorporated;
  • Introduction of a consistent format for development control plans (DCPs), although the content of DCPs will remain open for councils to tailor;
  • New powers for councils to stop work on a complying development for up to seven days to investigate complaints;
  • Provisions to enable councils to introduce a compliance levy on development applications;
  • Simplified and consolidated building and subdivision provisions into a single part of the Act, and some changes to enhance the effectiveness of the building provisions.

The amendments are largely consistent with the draft Bill exhibited in early 2017, with the notable exception of mandatory requirements for councils in Sydney and Wollongong to have an independent hearing and assessment panel (IHAP). This change was introduced by a separate amendment to the EP&A Act in August 2017 (See LGNSW media release).

These changes are significant for councils and will affect both local plan making and assessment processes. LGNSW had a mixed reaction to the overall package of reforms, and this was reflected in the LGNSW submission on the draft EP&A Amendment Bill. While welcoming some changes that will improve plan making practice to some degree, LGNSW maintains its strident opposition to the ongoing erosion of local plan-making and decision making powers.

Review of State Environmental Planning Policies (SEPPs)

The DP&E is reviewing a range of State Environmental Planning Policies (SEPPs).

LGNSW has made submissions on the following SEPPs to date:

  • Draft Coastal Management SEPP – LGNSW Submission Feb 2017
  • Updates to SEPP 44 - Koala Habitat Protection - LGNSW Submission Feb 2017
  • Draft Educational Establishments and Child Care Facilities SEPP – LGNSW Submission April 2017
  • Draft Educational Establishments and Child Care Facilities SEPP – LGNSW Submission April 2017

The Department is reviewing stakeholder feedback on these proposals, and has continued its review of other SEPPs, including:

  • A new Environment SEPP
  • A new Primary Production & Rural Development SEPP
  • Repeal of Operational SEPPs

LGNSW is preparing submissions on a number of these SEPPs currently on exhibition.

Building reforms

On 21 September 2016, the NSW Government released the final report of the independent review of the Building Professionals Act 2005 (conducted by Michael Lambert) together with a detailed Government response to the review.
The Lambert report included findings about the problems with building regulation which have been identified in a number of related reviews dating back to 2002. The issues and findings accorded with those consistently raised by LGNSW over many years.
LGNSW has tentatively welcomed the Government’s response, as a sign it is finally taking steps to strengthen building regulation.
LGNSW and councils see these much-needed reforms as a high priority, and LGNSW reiterated this position in February 2016 in a letter (PDF, 911KB) to the NSW Government.
LGNSW made two submissions in response to this review:

A detailed account of the problems with building certification facing Local Government was also provided in an earlier submission (PDF, 561KB) by LGNSW (in March 2014) to the Building Professionals Board (BPB) report on 'Building Certification and Regulation - Serving a New Planning System for NSW'.

Complying Codes

The NSW Government introduced a new pathway for development approval of what is called ‘complying development’ under the State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt and Complying Codes) 2008. This is referred to as the ‘Codes SEPP’. Complying development is a combined planning and construction approval for straightforward development that can be determined through a fast track assessment by a council or private accredited certifier. A series of state wide codes have been established progressively under the umbrella legislation of the Codes SEPP. These enable a council or private certifier to approve development without the need for development consent from council.

The NSW Government has increased the target for complying development that has set in motion a review of the current codes and an expectation that the state wide codes can be expanded to more risky forms of development, such as medium density development.

LGNSW supports the extension of exempt and complying development provisions, but only where they can be tailored to the local context and incorporate local provisions.

Draft Proposed Medium Density Housing Code 

LGNSW made a submission (PDF, 118KB) to the Department of Planning and Environment’s draft Propose Medium Density Housing Code and Design Guide in December 2016, opposing the expansion of complying development to include medium density housing. Our submission calls on the Government to ensure that medium density housing is subject to proper planning assessment through the development application process, not a tick-the-box approval by a certifier.
LGNSW's previous submissions to the Codes SEPP are:

Review of SEPP 65

Design Quality of Residential Flat Buildings

The NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DP&E) finalised a comprehensive review of State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) 65 – Design Quality of Residential Flat Development in 2015. The review resulted in a number of changes to the policy, including the overhaul of the Residential Flat Design Code into the Apartment Design Guide. LGNSW highlighted concerns about car parking and minimum apartment sizes in its 2014 submission to the review (PDF, 302KB)