The Environmental Planning and Assessment Act
The Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 is the primary land use planning statute in NSW. It governs matters such as planning administration, planning instruments, development assessments, building certification, infrastructure finance, appeals and enforcement.
The objects of the Act are principles to guide planning authorities in making decisions.
The objects are:
- to promote the social and economic welfare of the community and a better environment via the proper management, development and conservation of the State’s natural and other resources;
- to facilitate ecologically sustainable development by considering economic, environmental and social factors in planning decisions;
- to promote the best use of land;
- to promote the delivery and maintenance of affordable housing;
- to protect threatened and other species of plants and animals, and habitats;
- to promote sustainable management of heritage sites;
- to promote the good design and amenity of the built environment;
- to promote the proper construction and maintenance of buildings;
- to promote sharing of planning responsibility between different levels of government;
- to allow better community participation in environmental planning and assessment.
“Development” includes the use of land, the subdivision of land, and the erection or demolition of a building.
Independent Planning Commission
This body was formed under the Act as an agency independent of the State Government.
Its key functions are to:
- determine state significant development applications where there is much opposition from the community;
- conduct public hearings for development matters;
- provide independent expert advice when requested by the State Government.
The Office of the Independent Planning Commission is the support agency for the Commission and the main contact point for the public and government.
Key changes to the legislation
In 2018, a major overhaul of the Act came into effect. The Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment Bill 2017 made broad amendments to the Act. The purpose was to:
- enhance community participation;
- promote strategic planning;
- increase transparency and accountability in decision making;
- promote simpler, faster processes.
Community Participation Plan
One change to improve community consultation was to require planning authorities to form Community Participation Plans. A CPP must state how and when a planning authority will engage with the community in making decisions, including minimum mandatory public exhibition periods and notification requirements. Planning authorities required to prepare a CPP range from the Minister for Planning to a local planning panel.
Section 2.23(2) of the Act states planning authorities should consider community participation principles in forming a CPP. These principles include:
- the right of the community to be informed of planning matters that affect it;
- the provision of planning information that is easily accessible and in plain language;
- early, representative, and meaningful engagement with the community;
- open and transparent decision making, including the presentation of reasons.
Local Strategic Planning Statement
Another change in 2018 required each council to create a Local Strategic Planning Statement to identify planning priorities for their area. Requirements for a statement are covered by Section 3.9 of the Act. The statement must set out the 20-year vision for land use in the local area; the area’s character and values to be preserved and enhanced; how priorities will be achieved; and the monitoring and reporting methods to be employed. It must be reviewed every seven years. The statement must align with regional and district plans, such as Local Environment Plans and State Environmental Planning Policies.
Development Control Plan
These plans are covered by Section 3.42 of the Act. A standard online format for these plans was introduced to improve consistency across councils and to make navigation easier for the public, saving time and money for users.
Building and subdivision certification
Changes were also made to Part 6 to create a more logical structure for building regulation and certification. The changes removed the need for some progress certificates, introduced a subdivision certificate, introduced measures to ensure construction is consistent with approved plans, and required a building manual to be produced for specified buildings.
Another change required all planning authorities to publicly notify their determinations. This change was made to increase transparency in the planning system. The public notification must include the decision, the date of the decision, the reasons for it and how community views were considered.
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