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EP&A Act undergoes proposed amendment as a way to boost housing supply in NSW

 The Property Council of Australia (PCA) has welcomed New South Wales (NSW) state government’s move to amend the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979  (EP&A Act) as a way of boosting housing supply and therefore affordability.

PCA NSW executive director Jane Fitzgerald said the amendments were needed because a better planning system would help increase supply and make buying a home in Sydney more affordable.

“The proposed changes to the EP&A Act will improve the NSW planning system so that better strategic planning objectives are achieved, and more houses built,” Fitzgerald said in a press release on Monday.

“But, the NSW system needs radical surgery, not a nip and tuck.  Currently, it’s the worst system in the country, and while the package of proposals will certainly improve it, it’s a shame the Minister hasn’t been a little bolder in the reforms he has outlined,” she said.

On Monday, NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes had announced that the state government will look at amending the delays around the DA processed by councils, while also enhancing community confidence in the planning system.

The proposed changes are expected to include standardising the format of council’s development control plans to make them easier to understand and navigate, giving developers incentives to resolve objections before lodging DAs and focusing councillor attention on strategic planning with greater numbers of DA assessments processed by staff or local planning panels.

The amendment will also enable local communities to have more excellent opportunities to participate in strategic planning for their neighbourhoods as early as practicable, with each planning authority required to prepare community participation plans.

The changes come as NSW is experiencing the longest housing construction boom in its history with the latest figures for the 12 months to October showing 74,577 approvals, the second highest on record.

“However, there is still more work to do and these planning reforms build on our impressive results over the past five years by making it easier to create new homes,” Stokes said.

“The NSW Government is determined to do everything it can, including making the planning system more efficient, to ensure housing supply gets to homebuyers fast.”

Stokes said the planning reforms would enable the state government to deliver 725,000 new homes forecast to be required by 2036 to house an extra 1.7 million residents.

REINSW not impressed

However, Laing+Simmons managing director and Real Estate Institute NSW (REINSW) president-elect Leanne Pilkington says the solution to affordability is much simpler: start with Stamp Duty.

“While the industry would welcome measures that improve the planning system, through more efficient approvals and better consultation with communities, until the NSW Government addresses the key barrier to affordability then it can’t justifiably claim to be supporting first home buyers,” Pilkington said.

“The fact is that the huge cost of stamp duty in New South Wales is the biggest barrier to the purchase of real estate. It stifles transaction activity, puts increased pressure on prices and encourages people not to move, fuelling the supply shortage.

“Getting rid of stamp duty would see an influx of properties come to market, placing downward pressure on prices and vastly improving affordability, all while unlocking flow-on economic benefits,” she said.

Pilkington said the need for stamp duty reform in NSW has never been more urgent. And there’s a clear precedent for the new economic opportunities on change could generate.

When the Northern Territory and West Australian governments reduced stamp duty, state revenues rose as a direct result of having transaction volumes increased.

Pilkington believes the abolition of stamp duty in NSW would also see a similar influx of properties come to market making home buying in NSW much affordable than it presently is.

The proposed changes to the EP&A Act include

  • Investigating incentives for developers to consult with neighbours and the surrounding community to ensure disputes are resolved before a Development  Application (DA) proceeding to a council.
  • New powers for the Planning Minister to direct a council to establish a local planning panels of experts and community representatives;
  • A 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.
  • Authority for the Department of Planning and Environment Secretary to ensure the efficient processing of developments that require separate approvals and advice under separate NSW legislation.
  • Measures to ensure that local environmental plans are up to date.
  • Extending and improving the complying development assessment process that currently covers most new one or two storey dwellings, to include greenfield developments and terrace housing.
  • 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.
  • Introducing fair and consistent planning agreements between developers and councils to ensure there is more transparency on deals to fund public amenities, affordable housing, transport and other infrastructure.

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June Ramli

June Ramli was a in-house journalist for Elite Agent Magazine.