NSW Adopts New Project Assessment Timelines

Planning and Public Spaces Minister Rob Stokes has delivered his Statement of Expectations to the state’s Independent Planning Commission, which oversees the assessment of developments of state significance.

In projects not requiring a public meeting or hearing, the Commission will be called upon to supply a determination within five weeks of the project referral by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

In instances where projects necessitate a public meeting or full hearing, these timeframes will be lengthened to eight and 12 weeks.

In cases where the Commission supplies suggestions for gateway and rezoning reviews, this referral must be passed to the Planning Secretary within five weeks of notification of the IPC.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed by the Department and the IPC to erase the copying of roles in the assessment process, and correspond with the Minister’s Statement of Expectations.

The MoU details probity commitments to retain independence, guidelines for the provision of added info made requisite in determinations and clarity regarding the implementation of policy guides. Created under the auspices of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, the IPC is tasked with analysing and determining ‘state significant applications’ where certain criteria apply in response to public opposing, political donations or council opposition in the area.

Samples of projects presented before the Commission include:

  • the Narrabri Gas Project in Northern New South Wales, which Santos says could supply as many as half of the state’s natural gas requirements for residences and businesses
  • an expansion of Whitehaven’s Vickery Coal Mine entailing the construction of a new open-cut mine and related on-site infrastructure (new coal processing plant and rail spur) approximately 25 kilometres to the north of Gunnedah
  • the McPhillamys Gold Project in the Blayney – Kings Plain district of Central West New South Wales; and
  • a proposal to broaden maximum building heights and floor space ratios on land in the eastern portion of Cabramatta Town Centre to facilitate more multi-storey development.

While an independent governing body has been in place since the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 first was enacted in 1980, the current Independent Planning Commission was formed in 2018 under amendments to the Act introduced to the legislation in 2017.

The new benchmarks have been established amid worries regarding a blowout in decision-making time intervals which adhered to the 2017 amendments.

This move has caused IPC’s typical decision-making timeframes to expand from 38 days in 2017/18 to 73 days in 2018/19.

The new guidelines also figure into massive changes which come in the wake of a Productivity Commission review of the IPC.

That review discovered that the existence of the IPC had empowered the planning system by making minimal the risk of corruption or political influence, but confusion regarding some of its procedures limited its efficiency.

The review report made a dozen recommendations which offered 41 points of action – all accepted by the NSW Government.