On 6 May 2016, Planning Minister Rob Stokes announced that the NSW Government was revisiting its ‘revolutionary’ but unsuccessful bid in 2013 to amend the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. After months of consultation and amid community opposition, changes were blocked by Labor in the upper house.

Since then, significant changes have been made to the planning system, including the introduction of the Greater Sydney Commission, review of State Environmental Planning Policies (SEPPs), the establishment of NSW planning database ePlanning and administrative reforms to assessment timeframes for state significant projects.

However, Mr Stokes maintains that planning laws are still too complex and inefficient, stating ‘we need a planning system that can help support sustainable development as we accommodate an extra million people in Sydney over the next 10 years’.

The Minister confirmed that contentious elements of the 2013 Bill, including ‘code assessment’, which fast tracked complying development with limited community objection rights, would be discarded. Proposals to replace ‘ecologically sustainable development’ with ‘sustainable development’ and remove SEPPs would also not be revisited.

Amendments that received broad support during the consultation on the Planning Bill 2013 would be retained and contain new measures, which Mr Strokes said will ‘make the planning system simpler, fairer and more accessible’. These amendments include:

  • improved community engagement through consolidation of community consultation provisions;
  • clearly stating the hierarchy of state, regional and local plans;
  • clearly stating the development pathways and consent authorities for development;
  • clarifying and streamlining the environmental assessment provisions;
  • consolidating review and appeal provisions into a single new part of the Act; and
  • improved structure and language so the Act is easier to understand, follow and apply.

Additional areas for change that the Government is considering include:

  • pre-development application consultation between neighbours, with the aim of fixing the present system whereby neighbours are only informed after an application is received by a council;
  • ensuring the infrastructure contributions system operates efficiently, fairly and transparently;
  • ending transitional arrangements for projects approved under Part 3A, including modifications;
  • strengthening mechanisms that elevate the role of good design in the planning system, particularly at the local level with the involvement of communities;
  • reducing the complexity of complying development; and
  • reviewing local government planning controls more frequently to ensure relevance.