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New program to unblock local housing backlog

The NSW Government has announced an $11.5 million Unblocking Homes Program that will help fast-track the delivery of tens of thousands of homes tied up in local council red tape.

Government figures reveal that between July 2021 and July 2022, the average assessment times for local development applications (DAs) had blown out from 69 to 85 days.

Minister for Local Government Wendy Tuckerman said as of September 15, there were 107 housing rezoning proposals under assessment with the potential for 87,583 rezoning lots.

“There were also nearly 10,000 residential development applications under assessment with the potential to deliver some 82,842 homes,” she said.

“The Unblocking Homes Program will see the NSW Government partner with councils to resolve issues in complex assessments.

“This will help tackle the backlog and fast-track approvals to deliver more housing more quickly for our growing and diverse population – including social and affordable housing for people in need, Aboriginal communities and seniors.”

Under the program, seven initiatives will help local governments bring new homes to fruition sooner, including a Regional Housing Flying Squad, which will provide expert human resources to regional councils so they can clear DAs faster.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW Paul Toole said the squad had been trialled earlier this year with success.

“We know there’s a shortage of qualified planners in some parts of the state,” he said.

“This is about overcoming that with a flying squad of experts who can help councils review development applications faster and move projects into construction.”

Minister for Planning and Minister for Homes Anthony Roberts said the squad was on track to assess more than 2400 new homes.

“Councils have done it tough in recent years, with skills shortages, bushfires, COVID-19, and floods all contributing to a local planning backlog and an increase in average assessment times for local DAs from 69 to 85 days between July 2021 and July 2022,” he said.

“We’re here to help with support for complex applications and assessments, freeing up council time and speeding up approvals to get more shovels in the ground sooner.

Other initiatives under the program include a Planning Delivery Unit that will include case management to resolve significantly stalled projects, a concierge service to help new investors navigate the planning system and planning reform.

The Expert Assessment Program will help councils to progress prioritised housing projects, while an independent panel of experts will identify regionally significant developments based on value, scale and/or complexity.

The NSW Government will also work with councils across Greater Sydney to help implement their local housing strategies to meet the needs of growing and changing communities.

The Regional Housing Strategic Planning Fund will also provide a competitive grant program to support regional councils in delivering new housing, while the Faster Local Assessment Grant will support 14 selected councils across the state with DA and planning proposal assessments.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said the program would provide targeted funding to deliver more local housing. 

“We’re building on our $2.8 billion 2022 Housing Package announced in this year’s Budget, with targeted help for councils to drive more local housing delivery,” he said.

“It’s timely support, which will provide more opportunity and certainty for first home buyers, under-resourced councils and for the construction industry.”

The Property Council of Australia welcomed the Unblocking Homes Program, with NSW Acting Director Adina Cirson saying the state had a shortage of planners.

“This shortfall is felt most acutely at the local government level where local councils do not have enough experienced planners operating within development assessment roles,” she said.

“This is resulting in delays to the registration of development applications, the allocation of DAs to assessing officers, and ultimately to the assessment and determination times for applications.

“Significant delays with internal referral departments within local councils, including in heritage and urban design civil engineering and traffic and transport engineering, are also resulting in further delays to the assessment of applications.”

Ms Cirson said councils had already sought assistance from the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) to clear backlogs.

“However, there is generally a shortage of applicants to fill vacant positions, which is compounded by a competition for talent between local councils, DPE, and other state agencies,” she said.

“Given the shortage of planners has broad-reaching implications for not only the planning industry, but also the broader development and property industries, we endorse this move for the NSW Government to expand and redirect existing overflow capacity initiatives to help councils clear DA backlogs and accelerate the flow of housing supply.

“This announcement reflects our long-standing call for the Government to provide greater support to local governments to help deliver more housing for all, and we look forward to continuing to engage with the Government to ensure that these initiatives are kicked off without delay.”

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Editor at Elite Agent.

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