Sydney’s biggest NIMBY councils

NEWS: Carolyn Corrigan Mosman Councillor, is announcing her candidacy to run as an independent in the by-election of North Shore through us. Photograph by Edwina Pickles. Taken on 5th March.Residents and developers looking to build in Mosman, Hunters Hill, Leichhardt, Strathfield and Woollahra are more likely to have had their plans refused than anywhere else in Sydney.

Western Sydney councils, including Camden and Penrith refused about 1 per cent of development applications, while Mosman and Hunters Hill knocked back more than 11 per cent, Sydney Morning Herald analysis of NSW Department of Planning data from 2014 to 2016 found.

The most development friendly council in Sydney was Camden, where just 0.6 per cent of 3626 DAs lodged in the area were blocked.

Camden was, on average, the fastest place to get the go-ahead to extend or alter one’s home, with approvals taking an average of 37 days.

Hunters Hill was the slowest to approve home renovation plans with average waiting times running to 123 days.

Hunters Hill Council general manager Barry Smith said comparing inner Sydney metro councils with western Sydney councils was unfair because the inner metro area was “fully developed”.

“Seventy per cent of Hunters Hill is a heritage conservation area, the largest proportion of any Sydney council. This adds a layer of complexity to applications and therefore processing times,” Mr Smith said.

“There’s got to be some rules about these things and Hunters Hill was originally the dormitory suburb for Cockatoo Island shipyards, so we have a lot of small cottages that are heritage listed.”

The Herald’s analysis found several Sydney councils allowed more than 10 per cent of all DAs lodged to be decided by councillors, including at the former Botany Bay Council (35 per cent), Hurstville (30 per cent), Woollahra (20 per cent), Ashfield (12 per cent) and Leichhardt (11 per cent).

One of the factors slowing down approvals might be local councillors deciding too many DAs. Further, their involvement with too many development applications creates a corruption risk, the ICAC noted in 2007.

Former Leichhardt mayor and current Inner West Council mayor Darcy Byrne said he saw problems with the system at Leichhardt Council and brought in an independent panel of planning experts.

“I thought the level of political interference in determining DAs was wrong and a corruption risk,” Cr Byrne said.

New local planning panels will be introduced for all Sydney councils in March to take most development assessments away from local councillors.

NSW Minister for Planning And Housing Anthony Roberts said changes to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act would build community confidence in planning decisions and outcomes.

“Greater confidence and participation is essential to accommodating an extra 2.2 million people in NSW over the next 20 years,” Mr Roberts said.

Analysis of 205 decisions made by seven regional planning panels already operating in Sydney, the Hunter and Central Coast found that they reflected the recommendations of the council in 200 of 205 cases in the last six months of 2017.

Mosman mayor Carolyn Corrigan said all DAs, except those on public land, are reviewed and determined either by the Mosman Development Application Panel (MDAP), an independent panel formed to assess DAs at arms length from the councillors, or delegated to the council’s planning staff.

“The big difference now is that the [NSW] government [is] suggesting who we should put on the [MDAP] panel and that’s taking the decision away from the local community,” Cr Corrigan said.

“Depending on which side of the fence you sit, you could see the result [refusing 85 DAs] as a success.

“In the government’s new local planning panel policy there have got to be 10 objections to a DA for it to go to the panel, but we refer it after three objections, or council staff can refer a matter to MDAP. Currently about 35 per cent of DA’s are referred to MDAP.”