NIMBY - Not In My Back Yard. It is alive and well across the State and possibly one of the reasons that the Minister for Planning, Brad Hazzard, is considering changing the rules when it comes to final approvals for Development Applications (DAs). The Minister would like to take Councillors one step further away from the process of determining individual DAs. The reality is that Councillors, in the main, don’t have the qualifications and expertise to assess a DA based on the legal planning based framework. The Minister wants to streamline the process by largely removing Councillors from the merit-based determination process to support continued growth in NSW.
I don’t believe the Minister was thinking of Dubbo when he was initiating these planning changes and one of the difficulties for our State Government is that there are 152 Councils across NSW. With that many different Councils across a varied geographical and economic landscape, it is difficult to create one set of rules that will work for all Councils.
Take this specific issue in relation to DAs and compare Dubbo to some other Councils. In the past two years, 1,081 DAs have been approved by Council but only four of those DAs have actually gone to Councillors. From these numbers you can see that Councillors are certainly not a roadblock to the determination of DAs.
Obviously the Minister was proposing changes based on data from Councils outside Dubbo so I went looking for that data. The latest data available is from the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure ‘Local Development Performance Monitoring Report’ for the 2010-2011 financial year. There are hundreds of pages of data on all Councils and it makes for fascinating reading.
As I read through the data, it highlighted some major differences among Councils across NSW and, in particular, the differences in regional and city Councils. I will give you a few examples. The data in the report showed that Dubbo Councillors (as opposed to Council staff) determined 0.2 per cent of all DAs. This was similar to some regional cousins such as Wagga Wagga (0.5); Albury (0.6); Tamworth (1.4) and Armidale (2.5). Orange and Bathurst were a little higher with 5 per cent and 5.2 per cent respectively. Compare those figures to selected metro Councils. Botany Bay had 39.5 per cent of all DAs determined by their Councillors. There were other examples of a similar magnitude with Mosman (28.7); Leichardt (25.2); North Sydney (19.6); Hunters Hill (18.5) and Woollahra (15.2) all above the 15 per cent mark. I then wanted to put this in context with the number of DAs actually processed. Direct from the report, Dubbo determined 493 DAs in the 2010-2011 financial year. Our regional cousins mentioned above had numbers in the same vicinity ranging from 238 in Armidale and 380 in Orange up to 620 in Wagga Wagga and 626 in Albury. With such high percentages of DAs determined by Councillors in some metro areas, I was particularly interested in their numbers. Leichardt had 619 DAs of which a whopping 156 went before Councillors. Woollahra had 607 total DAs with 92 being determined at a Council meeting. North Sydney had 465 DAs determined with 91 going to the Chambers. Mosman had 258 DAs with Councillors reviewing 74 of them. Botany Bay, with the highest percentage of DAs brought to Councillors only had 167 DAs determined for the year but that still meant 66 DAs came before a Council meeting for the year.
Legal appeals on determined DAs also makes for interesting reading. Dubbo had zero appeals listed in the report for the 2010-2011 financial year. Sydney City topped the list with 53 legal appeals (admittedly from a very large number of 2055 DAs determined). Ku-ring-gai came in at second place with 33 legal appeals from the 813 DAs determined. Waverley had 21 appeals from 675 DAs and Warringah listed 18 appeals from their 1849 DAs. Woollahra and Leichardt had 15 and 14 occasions to call in the solicitors.
What all of this demonstrates to me is that every Council is different. Planning is only one facet of the myriad of areas that Councils across NSW are involved in. The role of a Councillor though should be similar in all Councils – that is to deal with broad strategic issues and set the direction and policy for Council. When Councillors start to become intimately involved in the detailed operational side of a Council – or when they start determining 13 DAs a month as in the case of Leichardt – then I believe Councillors have forgotten their role. I look forward to seeing the green paper which Mr Hazzard will release next month.
Let me know if you think Councillors should see more or fewer DAs processed by Council at firstname.lastname@example.org