In a bid to combat the economic downturn brought about by COVID-19, Rob Stokes, Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, has introduced the NSW Government's "Planning System Acceleration Program", MRA Consulting Group’s Esther Hughes explains.
The program aims to fast-track planning processes in order to stimulate the construction industry and minimise jobs loss. These will drive faster approvals for State Significant Developments (SSDs), re-zonings and development applications (DAs).
Many waste and recycling applications (those above 100,000tpa) fall under SSD.
As a result, the waste and recycling industry has an exceptional opportunity to invest in site development and planning approvals to deliver much needed waste infrastructure in NSW.
The program aims to:
- Fast-track assessments of SSDs, rezonings and DAs.
- Support councils and planning panels to quickly process local and regionally significant DAs.
- Introduce a ‘one stop shop’ for industry to progress projects that may be ‘stuck in the system’.
- Clear the backlog of cases in the Land and Environment Court by appointing 2 additional Acting Commissioners.
- Give the Minister more scope to make more decisions to allow projects to go ahead.
Separately, the Minister has made a further order to allow for building work to be carried out on a Saturday, Sunday or Public Holiday thus allowing for construction works to progress faster.
The Minister has asked the Independent Planning Commission to alter how it holds public hearings to ensure they remain "open and transparent" and has made a number of comments in support of the new Program:
- "In planning, our duty during the pandemic is to think about what we can do”
- "We can cut red tape to provide businesses with flexibility, we can override normal processes to keep people in jobs and the economy moving and we can process so many projects and proposals that have been stuck in the system for too long"
- "This is an incredible opportunity, and we need to think of it in those ways, to get through those projects that are awaiting consideration, or part-way through consideration, so that we have a huge pipeline of projects ready to power us into recovery"
- "This is not about approving everything, this is about making sure that everything comes to a decision point as quickly as possible"
- New projects coming in the system “are slowing down but that gives an incredible opportunity to churn through the ones we currently have”.
A conversation between MRA and the Department of Planning, Infrastructure and Environment ascertained that the current planning and approvals process is still in place. More resources have been allocated to process fast track applications, however the statutory timeframes still apply, including the time taken to obtain the Secretary’s Environment Assessment Requirements and the mandatory exhibition period.