Major developments including apartment projects and mines across NSW will be given faster approvals, with the Baird government to announce today a sweeping overhaul of the planning system in a bid to boost housing supply and slow rapidly rising house prices.
Planning assessment commissions, central to the state’s decision-making bureaucracy on strategic projects, will be replaced and will no longer review development proposals, instead simply deciding whether they go ahead or not, Planning Minister Rob Stokes will announce.
The plan is expected to cut back the amount of time taken to assess complex developments, a process that has increased from an average of 598 days in 2008 to more than 1000 days, and comes days after The Weekend Australian reported that Scott Morrison intends to focus this year on housing affordability and supply. The federal Treasurer is examining overseas programs that have pushed billions of dollars in private investment for rentals.
Labor has already criticised the overhaul as one that would do “very little, if anything” to address a housing affordability crisis in the state.
Sydney house prices rose by 15.5 per cent last year, the biggest increase across the capital cities.
Mr Stokes will today outline the plan, which includes trials of incentives to push developers to consult neighbours before lodging planning applications, and new powers for the government to force local councils to move ahead with developments.
Mr Stokes said the NSW Treasury estimated there was pent-up demand for up to 100,000 new homes across the state because of earlier constraints on supply. “The government is determined to do everything it can, including making the planning system more efficient, to ensure housing supply gets to home buyers fast,” he said.
Developers, however, will be met with stricter rules on changing applications, with the government of the view that the continual retrospective granting of approvals for work that has already been done beyond the original consent has eroded the integrity of the planning system.
Legislation will be amended to prevent planning authorities, and even courts, from approving modifications to work already completed except in a small number of circumstances. The Urban Development Institute of Australia, a lobby group, has already supported the changes.
“Beefed-up provisions aimed at dealing with scallywag behaviour such as preventing the misuse of modifications, ensuring development meets the standards and boosting enforcement tools are long overdue,” UDIA NSW chief executive Steve Mann said. “Streamlining the concurrent approval process and clarity around planning agreements will lead to increased efficiencies and planning outcomes that benefit our communities.”
The planning assessment commissions will be replaced by an independent planning commission, leaving the assessment of proposals to the Department of Planning. An initial assessment is expected to save up to 160 days in adjudicating a development, the government claims.
State opposition planning spokesman Michael Daley said the plan was “pure window-dressing”. “There is nothing in this package that helps first-home buyers or deals with the fact that the majority of people likely to buy these new homes are cashed-up and negatively geared investors,” he said.