MPs agree to work together on planning system, fix “appalling” delays

November 26, 2014

Pictured: The Hon. Robert Brown MLC for Shooters and Fishers Party, The Hon. Steve Whan Shadow Minister for Resources and Primary Industries, The Hon. Anthony Roberts Minister for Resources and Energy, Ross Greenwood.

Representatives of the NSW Government and the NSW Opposition have agreed to work together on improving the planning system and to minimise “appalling” delays that risk future mining jobs and investment in NSW.
The NSW Government failed to get its new planning laws through the Upper House at the end of 2013 but has now released plans to reduce the amount of time taken to assess state significant developments, including mining projects (link to our media release on the Premier’s statement).  
The planning system has been a hot issue for the NSW Parliament and at the NSW Mining Industry & Suppliers Conference in Sydney, former NSW Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner admitted that it had been made more complicated despite the NSW Government’s best intentions. 
“I’m disappointed that with over four years in government, we haven’t fixed the system, and in fact arguably it’s got worse,” he said.
“The government has very little control over the outcome of any development proposal and that’s not good for financial and investment security.”
Mr Stoner told the conference that comprehensive root and branch reform of the planning system is needed and called for a bi-partisan approach. 
“If you look at the case of [Whitehaven Coal’s] Maules Creek [mine]... I think it was something like four years from go to woe from the original planning application. We’re talking about a global industry here. I mean even within Australia that’s by far the worst, but globally it’s appalling so it needs to be fixed. 
“It is just too important an issue to our state. Government and opposition and cross bench, I think they would all share those visions of trying to achieve the right balance between social outcomes, economic outcomes and environmental outcomes.”  
Shadow Minister for Steve Whan told the conference that confidence needs to be restored.
“I actually think that the basic legislation we have there is quite workable. Perhaps it needs to be stripped back a bit. If we actually consulted with each other in the process and not just tried to push something through and have a bit of brinkmanship in the Upper House then we might be able to come up with something that gained that confidence,” Mr Whan said. 
In a sign that both sides of politics understand the need for reform and a planning system that attracts investment rather than deter it, Minister for Resources and Energy Anthony Roberts and Mr Whan shook hands during their panel session at the conference and agreed to work together more closely in the future. 
Minister Roberts insisted the NSW Planning Assessment Commission should remain independent but that it needed more guidance and clarity to make its determinations.
“The Planning Assessment Commission will always play a role. I think there needs to be greater input and more sensible input at times in the Planning Assessment Commission,” Minister Roberts said. 
“Do we need greater expertise on the Planning Assessment Commission or input? Absolutely. Can we have occasions where the Planning Assessment Commission is driving policy? Absolutely not. We should be driving government policy.”
Mr Whan also praised the commitment at our Awards Dinner from NSW Premier Mike Baird to improve the Planning System.
“I welcome the commitment by the Premier last night, and by the planning minister this morning to put guidelines down for the PAC. My view is that one of the problems we’ve had over the past few years is since the PAC has been given the power to actually make decisions you’ve seen that sort of move ahead of what they were actually set up to do,” he said.
“I have to say philosophically, I agree with your original point that politicians are elected to make decisions, and as long as decisions are transparent and open, and a minister who makes the decision publicises the reasons for the decision, then I think it’s still reasonable for ministers to have ultimate say on things.” 
The Premier made his announcement at the NSW Mining Industry & Suppliers Awards Dinner on Thursday.
“Tonight I commit the government to halving the assessment times for major projects during the next term of government. We will be cutting it in half from where we are today… I think it’s about time we had some accountability for making decisions, within clear time frames,” he said. 
Minister for Planning Pru Goward announced on Friday a range of improvements to how 
state significant development proposals are to be processed, providing more certainty to communities and business.
“We have listened to communities and to industry who have highlighted their concerns about assessment delays and uncertainty,” Ms Goward said.

“To rebuild NSW we need a planning system that’s nimble and predictable, providing business and the community certainty about the process and timeframes.”

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