NSW state government stops councillors determining development approvals

As of 1 March, the NSW state government has stopped councillors in Canada Bay from determining the outcomes of any development approvals (DAs). The excuse is to stop corruption. The “solution” is to remove the democratic influence of councils on development across Canada Bay, with the NSW government grabbing control and planning laws made even more developer-friendly than before.

Until now, DAs which were controversial were passed from council staff to the councillors. The decisions were made in an open council meeting, where people for or against a development had the chance to speak. But now, because of new NSW state government law, our councillors will no longer have any role in these decisions. Instead, they will be made by planning panels called IHAPs (Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels) – all across Sydney and Wollongong.

In most cases, the outcome would be the same. But in some cases it would be different, because elected councillors are concerned not just about following planning rules, but representing the community’s best interest. Councillors are accountable to the community and can be later voted out of office if enough people disagree with them.

This legislation is the latest example of the NSW state government taking power away from democratically elected local councils, and imposing their own rules. The fees for the extra bureaucrats are paid for by the council. If a party appeals to the Land and Environment Court against an IHAP decision, the council (who had no say in the decision) has to foot the legal bill. I still don’t know if the IHAP will make decisions in public, and when their meetings will take place.

Who asked for this backward step? The real estate industry. The IHAPs are called independent, but they are effectively controlled by the state government.

LOCAL DEVELOPMENT ASSESSMENT

Local people will continue to send me emails about their concerns about developments going on around them. Yes, I can send them to the IHAP. But I won’t be able to do much to help them. If you are concerned about this, learn about what the state government has done and continues to do about planning laws. Yes I know it’s complicated. That’s why they have gotten away with this – up until now.

See my later post with more on dealing with development approvals.

[The Inner West Courier published a modified form of this post on 6 March 2018 on their letters page.]

Join us and Walk to save our Water

walk4waterimage

Building on the long history of walking for social justice – from Mohandas Gandhi to Martin Luther King – Sydney residents can walk to save our drinking water from being drained and cracked by mining exploration, starting on 21 February.

The journey will begin at 10am at the Cataract Dam on Saturday February 21 and end at State Parliament at midday Saturday February 28. Anyone can walk for as little as half an hour or as long as they like.

Greens candidate for Drummoyne, Alice Mantel will be walking on Thursday 26 February starting at Parramatta and ending at the Auburn Botanical Gardens.

Coal seam gas (CSG) fracking is now taking place within 300m of housing in the Camden and Campbelltown regions. The walk will pass these areas on the first and second days.

Most of Sydney is covered by Coal Seam Gas exploration licenses. These were temporarily frozen by the state government, but can be reactivated at any time. Apex Energy has a license near Warragamba Dam, and more recently the State Government’s Chief Scientist report could open the door to more fracking in Sydney’s water catchment.

The NSW State government is dismantling Sydney Catchment Authority at a time when its expert knowledge on protecting drinking water from mining is crucial.

In addition, the Federal government has offered funding to State governments as an incentive to privatise water. Premier Mike Baird welcomed this but has not yet publicly introduced the idea of privatisation. This could easily occur after the forthcoming NSW state election in March.

Ms Mantel called upon Premier Baird to rule out any such privatisation. “Protecting the precious water reserves of NSW requires banning all coal seam gas mining and keeping all water in government hands in trust for the citizens of the state,” she said.

Some of Sydney’s most reliable rainfall-fed drinking water sources have been cracked and drained by underground longwall coal mining, upstream from Woronora, Cataract, Cordeaux and Avon dams. The route will include stops to meet the Mining Minister, multi-cultural and multi-faith events and a rally to support Sydney Water employees.

A map of the route and further details can be found at www.walk4water.net