NSW Auditor-General report about Development Application processes

In mid-December, the NSW Auditor-General released a report into Development Applications processes and timeframes for three local Councils (The Hills Shire, Northern Beaches, and Byron Shire) and a branch of the Department of Planning & Environment (DPE).

Conflicts of interest declarations and transparency in managing conflicts of interest were recurring themes. Practical recommendations to improve transparency and assessment processes were made to The Hills and Byron Shire Councils as well as DPE. Responses from all parties accepted the recommendations outlined in the report.

Interestingly, the Auditor-General’s office noted the challenges in planning staff shortages at Byron Shire and outlined the inherent risks in needing to routinely outsource development assessment. As an aside, skills shortages in regional areas is an ongoing issue for Councils. DPE has previously announced the continuation of its “Regional Housing Flying Squad” program into 2024 to assist regional Councils dealing with a backlog of residential development applications. The program is particularly focused on those applications which would ‘unlock’ significant housing stock. As part of the extended Flying Squad program, new and young planners would be trained up by DPE to then go on and work for regional Councils.

We welcome these Auditor-General reports when they land, as they give us a look ‘under the hood’ of our Planning system and the Councils that we so often interact with.