Assessing major development applications: Planning Assessment Commission

19 January 2017

A report released today by the NSW Auditor-General, Margaret Crawford, found that the Planning Assessment Commission (the Commission) has improved its decision-making processes for major development applications in recent years. The Commission has improved how it consults the public and manages conflicts of interest, and now also publishes records of its meetings with applicants and stakeholders.

There are still some vital issues to be addressed to ensure it makes decisions in a consistent and transparent manner. Most importantly, the Commission was not able to show in every decision we reviewed how it met its statutory obligation to consider the likely environmental, social and economic impacts of a development as required under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

Despite improved probity measures put in place by the Commission, there is a perception among some stakeholders that it is not independent of the Department of Planning and Environment (the Department). The reasons for some of these concerns are outside of the Commission’s control. For example, the Commission becomes involved after the Department has prepared an assessment report which recommends whether a development should proceed. This creates the perception that the Commission is acting on the recommendation of the Department. The Department’s assessment report should state whether an application meets relevant legislative and policy requirements, but not recommend whether a development should be approved or not.

More can also be done to improve transparency in decision-making and the public’s perception of the independence of Commissioners. The Commission should continue to improve how it communicates the reasons for its decisions and also publish on its website a summary of Commissioners’ conflict of interest declarations for each development application.

“It is pleasing to see that the Commission has accepted all my recommendations.” said the Auditor General.

The Commission is an independent body established in 2008 under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. It makes decisions on major development applications in New South Wales.

Further information

A full copy of the report is available here.

Please contact Barry Underwood, Executive Officer, on 9275 7220 or 0403 073 664 and email barry.underwood@audit.nsw.gov.au.

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