Planning reforms must provide certainty

May/June 2017 edition

The NSW Government has proposed reforms to make the planning system more efficient and boost community confidence. This is good news for developers and consumers.

The current planning system in NSW is an administrative nightmare and akin to manoeuvering through treacle. The development approval system can only be described as “not yes”, “not no”, but “maybe” – which is expensive, to say the least. Requirements also differ from one council to the next, which only adds to the length of the process and the unnecessary expense.

The real loser in this convoluted and complex system is the property consumer, as they ultimately bear the cost.

That’s why REINSW welcomes the proposed reforms to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. They’re a good first step to improving the process, but there’s still ample opportunity for further significant improvements.

Councils need to provide certainty when it comes to development applications. If it’s a “yes”, it needs to be clear and unequivocal. And if it’s a “no”, it also needs to be clear so people can learn from the process and don’t pursue approval in the future when it’s unlikely to be granted.
Providing the right type of supply

Improving the planning system has many benefits. One is boosting the supply of housing, which is in many respects the major culprit inhibiting housing affordability. But any new supply needs to be high quality, higher-density living which is located near shared recreational facilities and public transport. It’s an inefficient use of land to have a single house situated on a quarter acre block.

The ideal use of land space, particularly in our metropolitan areas, are developments referred to as ‘vertical villages’, which are made up of three main tiers.

  1. Ground floor: Retail outlets such as a supermarket, newsagent and restaurants.
  2. First floor: Professional services including a doctor, dentist, gymnasium and childcare.
  3. Higher floors: residential living.

Everything residents require can be obtained from within their vertical village.
Reforming our planning system will play an essential role in providing the right type of housing supply and will help reduce costs and ensure properties which are built to provide the lifestyle that people want and need.

What are some of the proposed planning reforms?

In January 2017, the NSW Government released proposals for planning reform.

Minister for Planning Anthony Roberts said the reforms would help deliver 725,000 new homes, which are forecast to be required by 2036 to house an extra 1.7 million residents.

Some of the proposed changes include:

  • Investigating incentives for developers to consult with neighbours and the surrounding community to ensure disputes are resolved prior to a development application proceeding to council
  • New powers for the Minister for Planning to direct a council to establish a local planning panel of experts and community representativesA standardised format for development control plans, produced in consultation with councils, to promote consistency across the confusing array of up to 400 formats currently used in NSW
  • Simplifying and consolidating building provisions to remove confusion for developers
  • Widening the availability of internal review options for proponents aggrieved by council decisions as a faster, low cost alternative to court action.


TIM MCKIBBIN is the CEO of the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales.