(LGNSW President Cr Darriea Turley AM, Chief Executive Scott Phillips and LGNSW staff at the ALGA National General Assembly 2023)
20 June 2023
Concern about potential loss of community-led planning
Like many of you I was concerned when I awoke to last week’s headlines, which seemed to indicate the NSW Government is intending to bypass local government and push ahead with the approval of major housing projects.
In a nutshell, large developments over $75 million containing at least 15 per cent of affordable housing will be deemed "state significant" and attract provisions allowing a 30 per cent floor space bonus and a height bonus of 30 per cent above what is permitted under the controls set by corresponding local council plans.
While councils are keen to work with our state colleagues to drive meaningful and realistic measures to address the housing crisis, we are always concerned when the State Government deems it necessary to erode community-led planning and take planning authority out of local hands.
A move to allow large developers to override existing planning provisions, on the proviso that their developments would provide a portion of affordable housing for a mere 15 years, is deeply disappointing at the very least and at worst a denial of local democracy.
So I was pleased to obtain assurances and a commitment from Planning Minister Paul Scully that our sector will play a key role in developing the framework for this affordable housing proposal.
LGNSW's media release issued last week
This week we’ve seen more housing announcements, with the Federal and State governments announcing moves towards more targeted delivery of additional social housing. The State Government is broadening approval pathways for certain types of state agency social housing developments and the Federal Government will commit $610 million towards new social housing stock in NSW.
Greater investment in more social and affordable housing is well-supported by local government but we want to see this done with due regard for the agreed strategic plans and councils’ input on each project. This will help ensure that such projects are appropriate to the local context - an important outcome for social housing residents and local communities alike. We look forward to working closely with the NSW Government to ensure this occurs in a meaningful way.
ALGA National General Assembly 2023
It was great to attend ALGA’s National General Assembly last week, where councillors from across the nation debated a wide range of motions designed to help councils best serve their communities.
The Assembly also heard that the 2023-24 allocation of Financial Assistance Grants will be brought forward, and welcomed the Albanese Government reinstituting the Australian Council of Local Government, which was held on Friday.
Bringing mayors, councillors and federal ministers together to collaborate is always important if we are to achieve the best outcomes for all our communities.
Audit Office Report on Local Government
I am pleased that with the release of the NSW Audit Office report on Local Government 2022, the Auditor-General has acknowledged that 2022 was a challenging year for many NSW councils still recovering from the impact of natural disasters and facing cost and resourcing pressures.
The critical shortage of skilled staff coupled with COVID absences over that period had a major impact on council reporting functions.
While LGNSW generally welcomes the report, we strongly disagree with the Auditor-General’s interpretation of the ownership of Rural Fire Service (RFS) mobile assets (the Red Fleet). LGNSW firmly supports the view held by many councils – that councils do not have effective management and control of the RFS assets.
Of the 43 councils that received qualified audits, all are a conscious result of a principled and professional decision by councils not to recognise the RFS assets as council property for accounting purposes. In doing so, these councils were exercising the choice in interpretation available to them under the Local Government Code of Accounting Practice (OLG).
Councils look forward to NSW Labor maintaining its pre-election commitment to resolve this Red Fleet matter. A minor legislative amendment would address the dispute, and fairly reflect that councils have no say over the acquisition, use and control of these RFS assets.
Just like SES assets and Fire & Rescue NSW assets, RFS assets belong to the NSW Government and must be recognised as such. We will continue to encourage councils to refuse to recognise these NSW Government assets in their financial statements.
More broadly, councils recognise the growing importance of cyber security and appreciate the Auditor-General’s concerns in this area. There is work to do to improve cyber security in organisations everywhere and councils look forward to working collaboratively with the OLG in the development and implementation of cyber security policy and practices in the sector.
First Nations Voice to Parliament
I am pleased to invite mayors and councillors to join an LGNSW forum on the First Nations Voice to Parliament on Thursday 6 July, from 10.00am to 11.30am. All mayors, general managers and councillor members have been issued a direct email invitation with the registration link to attend the special forum.
This online forum will be held during NAIDOC week and will feature distinguished guests including the Hon Linda Burney MP, Minister for Indigenous Affairs. Linda Burney is a proud member of the Wiradjuri nation. She was the first Aboriginal person to be elected to the NSW Parliament and the first Aboriginal woman to serve in the Australian House of Representatives.
The forum will provide you with an opportunity to hear about the upcoming referendum on the Voice to Parliament and ask any questions you may have.
At the LGNSW 2022 Special Conference, councils resolved that LGNSW supports the Statement from the Heart’s call for Indigenous constitutional recognition through a Voice and that a referendum be held to achieve it. Further information can be found on the LGNSW website.
Ministerial Agreement to Cut Packaging Waste
I welcome Australia’s Environment Ministers’ recent decisive decision to mandate strict packaging rules, including regulating out harmful chemicals and contaminants in packaging, and making industry responsible for the packaging they place on the market.
LGNSW has long called for mandated producer responsibility and I wrote to the Federal Minister for the Environment and Water most recently in May on this matter, particularly with respect to soft plastics. I was pleased to receive a response acknowledging our sector’s concerns around cost shifting and responsibility shifting from industry onto councils, and noting that the Federal Government expects industry to take a leading role in managing the products and materials they bring to into the market.
The announced changes will foster much-needed confidence in recycling and assist local governments around NSW to contribute to Australia’s ambitious 2030 resource recovery targets.
More support for community recovery post disaster
In terrific news, the NSW and Australian governments have jointly announced that funding will be provided for 10 new Community Recovery Officers to bring tailored flood recovery support to communities.
One of LGNSW’s key advocacy priorities in recent years has been to call for these officers to be provided to more councils across NSW in recognition of the increasing frequency, scale, and long recovery timeframes of natural disasters.
The officers are embedded in councils and are responsible for the development of a range of recovery initiatives alongside community groups and stakeholders, ensuring community recovery needs are understood and that recovery information, events and activities can be tailored to meet local needs.
Congratulations to Berrigan, Cabonne, Central Darling, Cootamundra-Gundagai, Edward River, Gunnedah, Moree, Murray River, Narrabri and Wentworth, which will all host a Community Recovery Officer.
In some more positive news for the sector, we are pleased to see that from 1 July 2023 there will be an annual increase to planning services fees (such as development applications) in line with inflation.
This welcome news follows more than a decade of advocacy from LGNSW and many councils for these planning services fees to reflect the actual costs more closely as well as building in an inflationary factor.
From 1 July 2023, the fee unit will increase from $100 to $107.28 for the financial year commencing 1 July 2023, with further gradual updates each year in line with Consumer Price Index (CPI) changes.
The Department of Planning and Environment has listened and responded to the sector, recognising that these are important, long-awaited changes that will assist councils to better resource their planning teams and improve their assessment times.
It has been simply unsustainable for councils to resource their planning departments when their income has decreased in real terms year on year for a decade or more. In the longer term this reform will assist to reduce DA Assessment times and improve planning outcomes as councils will be able to retain appropriately skilled staff to assess DAs.
The changes to fees follow the welcome amendments to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation in 2021 to councils and other consent authorities more ability to recover costs for planning services by:
- updating fixed fees to reflect movements in the consumer price index (CPI) that have happened since the last CPI-related increase to fees in the Regulation in 2011
- allowing for ongoing minor adjustments in these fees either annually or biannually to reflect changes in CPI.
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