Infrastructure contributions will undergo significant changes, and if not kill, then certainly wound, voluntary planning agreements.

NSW's White Paper and exposure draft Planning Bill intend to simplify and streamline the regime for contributions for infrastructure.

The setting of contributions will be guided by a number of principles to be included in a NSW planning policy on infrastructure. Contributions will be limited to a number of specific categories of infrastructure; they are the only ones upon which contributions can be sought.

Contributions will be based on standardised benchmark costs to be set by IPART, and councils will need to justify any departure from those benchmark costs for specific infrastructure.

There will be three kinds of infrastructure contributions:

  • local infrastructure (such as roads and drainage);
  • regional infrastructure (such as regional and state roads, transport infrastructure, schools and regional open space);
  • regional growth funds.

Contributions can be applied to development under Part 4 and private State infrastructure development under Part 5.

Councils will only be able to impose contributions for local infrastructure if they have a local infrastructure plan, with those contributions required to be applied within three years. The Land and Environment Court will continue to have jurisdiction to hear appeals against conditions requiring contributions and be able to set aside contributions if it considers them unreasonable, even if authorised under a local infrastructure plan.

Growth infrastructure plans

Underpinning regional infrastructure contributions will be growth infrastructure plans. These plans will identify ten and five year spatial infrastructure requirements to assist in developing a contributions schedule for regional infrastructure. These plans will also include a requirement for contestability assessment which provides an opportunity for the private sector to participate in the delivery, design, construction and operation of regional infrastructure.

The death of VPAs?

While the Planning Bill retains the provisions in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 in relation to voluntary planning agreements, the White Paper makes clear that regimes to impose contributions outside the contributions plan regime will be discouraged.

Consequently, contributions required through conditions of consent or voluntary planning agreements will be discouraged or not accepted. It is proposed that voluntary planning agreements will only be available in relation to State significant development.