NSW Planning Overhaul Gets Mixed Construction Response

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Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013
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New planning laws intended to streamline approval processes and encourage development in growth areas in New South Wales have received a mixed response from the state’s building industry, with some industry leaders welcoming the changes but others expressing concern the reforms do not go far enough in terms of promoting new construction in existing residential areas.

Should it become law, the Planning Bill 2013 introduced into the New South Wales Parliament on Tuesday will give effect to what the government says is the most significant planning overhaul in several decades.

A key plank of the reform package revolves around a new ‘code assessable development’ regime under which councils and communities will be able to agree on a code outlining what does and does not constitute appropriate development within a given area and projects which fit within these codes will automatically qualify for approval without the need for additional community consultation.

In a bid to appease community concerns, however, the government now says these codes will be required only in designated growth areas where key infrastructure such as the North-West Rail Link or WestConnex are being rolled out, and will not apply in existing low-density housing or heritage areas unless the community wants them.

The government has also dropped an originally stated target to have 80 percent of developments within given areas to which the codes apply qualify for the streamlined process.

State Planning Minister Brad Hazzard says the changes are about creating a more robust system with simpler processes and a stronger community voice in local development.

Building industry reaction to the legislation was mixed.

On one hand, Property Council  of Australia NSW Executive Director Glenn Byres welcomed the changes, which he says will create a more sensible and orderly system with less complexity and confusion as well as a reduced compliance burden.

“It’s a big reform for the property and construction industry” Byres says. “We need to wipe away the crippling red tape and chronic underperformance of the system that led to housing shortages here. We think the new legislation, if matched with real cultural reform, has the potential to deliver a far better system.”

Speaking on behalf of the residential sector, however, Housing Industry Association Regional Executive Director (NSW) David Bare stresses much of the detail will be in the regulations (which are yet to come) but expressed frustration about the lack of targets for the percentage of developments which qualify for both the new code assessable rules in growth areas and also for complying developments in other areas.

Bare says the industry is also disappointed that the new code assessable regime will not apply to existing residential areas, where the majority of housing construction is concentrated.

“I can’t see much at the moment [in the Bill] for residential construction” Bare says.

“What’s kept us buoyed over the past two years has been the idea of code assessable and also increasing the level of complying development.”

“Both of those have been pared back.”

Should it pass both houses of Parliament in its current form, Hazzard says he hopes the new legislation will come into effect next year.

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