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Is the NSW planning system becoming more simple to understand or more complicated?

The NSW Planning system is constantly evolving. The Act that is central to the planning system (the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act) was assented to in 1979. There have been many amendments to the Act over the past few decades. Recently, the pace of change seems to be accelerating and it is not uncommon for several amendments to the Act to be made in a single year.



Technology has evolved a lot since 1979 and we now tend to read most planning policies via the internet rather than through hard copies. In some respects, this makes it easier to keep up to date with changes. It certainly makes it easier to access documents, as a person does not need to visit their local Council or Department of Planning to view or obtain a hard copy of the document.


One aspect of the system that is quite striking, is how the number of regulations have growth in length and complexity. I decided to print several documents that are key to the system to understand what their total length is:


- The Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 now stands at 289 A4 pages. The equivalent version 20 years ago was 106 pages, meaning that it has almost tripled in length over this time.

- The Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000, which supports the Act, is currently 297 pages. The original version was 150 pages, equating to an approximate doubling in length.


Some of the above increases in length and complexity are due to certain matters transferring across from the Local Government Act eg. building certification, nevertheless the core of the system has also become more complicated, with many new matters such as state significant development and a variety of panels being introduced.


Over the past decade, we have moved to a system where all Councils have been required to adopt a "standard LEP". This means that now most Councils should only have one LEP in place. In the past, some Councils only had one LEP, although several had more than one LEP for their area.


While the total number of LEPs has reduced, the complexity of those LEPs in effect has increased. Compare for example, the former Campbelltown (Urban Area) LEP 2002 (54 pages + 1 map) with the current Campbelltown LEP 2015 (115 pages + over 100 pages of maps). This increase is comparable with other LEPs that have been adopted recently.


There are currently 38 State Environmental Planning Policies in effect. I believe at other times there have been more SEPPs than this, nevertheless, the award for complexity here would go to State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt & Complying Development Codes) 2008, which is a whopping 357 pages, plus over 100 pages of maps.


In the past, many of the matters contained within this SEPP, were not part of the planning system, but rather matters that only required a Building Application with the local Council. Councils had local approvals policies for these items that were relatively straightforward given the low-impact nature of these developments.


Many persons have welcomed the introduction of private building certification in NSW, nevertheless today's private certifiers certainly have many more requirements to interpret than their equivalent building inspectors in Council 30 years ago.


For any questions about the NSW planning system, feel free to get in contact.


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@ Copyright by David Carey | Urban City Planner, Project Manager and Development Consultant

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