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04 Mar 2022

Delay in "Flying Squad" Plan in tackling the Council

Delay in

With some rural councils' average assessment times exceeding four years, the NSW government has created a regional housing flying squad to help speed things up.

The Rural Homes Flying Squad was established this week by NSW planning minister Anthony Roberts as part of a $1 million scheme to help build more regional housing.

"We know rural NSW needs more houses," Roberts said. "A regional housing flying squad will assist regional councils in clearing development applications faster."

"We understand that hiring skilled planners may be difficult, especially for smaller regional governments."

The team of state-funded planning specialists will go to areas that require assistance in evaluating development applications.

In addition, the software will allow council planners to operate remotely inside the department.

More than 16,000 active development applications totaling more than $14 billion have been filed across NSW's districts.

While the ABS building approvals data for January indicated a 25.9% decline in house construction approvals for NSW, the increasing building activity in Ai Group's February PCI data suggested this dip was just transitory, according to HIA economist Tom Devitt.

"As the impact of [the pandemic] diminishes, we expect an above-average amount of approvals to be reported in the following months," Devitt added.

"As the Omicron wave subsided and builders were allowed to resume work, housing construction seemed to have rebounded."

Luke Achterstraat, executive director of the Property Council of Australia in NSW, said the flying squad was a start in the right direction but not a complete answer.

"The long waits are attributable to a variety of circumstances," Achterstraat explained, "including regulatory uncertainty as a result of continual changes in the planning system, the economic implications of Covid, supply chain worries, and a rise in the cost of building materials."

"The flying squads will enable councils get access to the expertise they need to confidently assess and approve developments and rezonings in their area, improving housing supply in the regions to meet rising demand."

"Regional regions frequently struggle to locate the professional and technical skills required to complete extensive and sophisticated assessment work, causing approvals to be severely delayed and affecting housing supply."

Tom Forrest of the Urban Taskforce believes the system requires revision.

"The continued issues with NSW's planning system occur at a time when the state is experiencing a home supply shortage," he said.

Regional governments, according to Achterstraat, have long struggled to evaluate planning applications.

"For small municipalities with limited resources, the demands of strategic planning and development assessment may be daunting, resulting in a backlog of work and delays," Achterstraat added.

Moree Plains Shire Council took 1637 days, or more than four years, on average to consider planning applications in the second quarter of the 2020-21 budget year.

The average was 1139 days in Newcastle, 1094 days in Lake Macquarie, 913 days in the Central Coast, and 800 days in Coffs Harbour.

The state's objective assessment time was 275 days, while the quarter's average assessment time was 476 days.

With 56 days, Albury City had the quickest assessment time.

The fastest average assessment time in Sydney's metropolitan districts was 102 days in the fourth quarter of the 2019-20 financial year for Northern Beaches.

Blacktown had the longest average assessment time of 648 days.

Issues contributing to the delays, according to the Regional Housing Taskforce's September 2021 report, include a shortage of infrastructure, councils' or developers' reluctance to fully pay essential infrastructure, duplication processes in planning applications, and out-of-date planning plans.

"The causes of delay were noted to frequently be the consequence of unsolved issues needing concentrated effort to resolve, such as how, when, and by whom infrastructure would be delivered, and how environmental restrictions would be managed," the report stated.

Based on the taskforce's October 2021 recommendations and results from the NSW government's planning delivery Unit, which was established in July 2021, the regional housing flying squad is the latest in a series of NSW government measures to fix the problem.

Thirteen councils took part in a $4.5 million trial initiative in August 2021 to cut evaluation timeframes to 250 days. Each council received $350,000 to employ and educate personnel, set rules, engage planning panels sooner, and obtain the appropriate equipment as part of the deal.

When all councils were forced to use the NSW Planning Portal for all applications, there was a claimed 30-day decrease in evaluation time.

The trial program will be evaluated in May 2022.

In August 2021, the state also announced a Rapid Assessment Framework, which streamlines the process for major developments and establishes deadlines for environmental impact evaluations.

The NSW government also contributed $75.9 million to the Accelerated Infrastructure Fund, which will aid in the construction of vital trunk infrastructure while also shortening the time it takes to examine significant development projects known as Horizon projects.

Last month, a $30 million effort to improve regional infrastructure to assist unleash housing supply was unveiled.