Second, more detailed stage of consultation for planning reform in the NT now underway

By Nicole Besgrove, Margaret Michaels

02 Aug 2018

Six principles and three directions are at the core of the second round of consultation to inform future reforms to the planning system in the Northern Territory.

After consideration of submissions made during the first stage of consultation last year, the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics is now seeking your feedback on its more detailed reform proposals for the Northern Territory's planning system.  The consultation process ends on Friday 7 September 2018.

The devil will be in the detail once legislative amendments have been drafted and released for consultation, however this second round of consultation provides an opportunity to inform the NT Government whether the proposed reforms are a step in the right direction address the shortcomings of the current planning system in the Northern Territory as identified by the community, industry and stakeholders.

What's covered in Stage 1 and Stage 2

Stage 1 of the consultation process took place between October and December 2017; it essentially sought feedback on what does (and doesn't) work in the current NT planning and development system and the possible options for its reform which had been drawn from best practice across Australia. The Stage 1 Consultation Outcomes Report has now been released which outlines the consultation undertaken to-date and the feedback received from community, industry and stakeholders.

As part of Stage 2 of the consultation process, feedback is now being sought with respect to the following two documents:

  • Directions Paper – a high level explanation of the NT Government’s strategy to deliver planning system reforms and how these reforms will be developed and delivered in two key phases; and
  • Phase 1 Priority Reform Paper – a more detailed and technical explanation of the issues and proposed reforms to be developed and implemented in Phase 1.

The principles underpinning NT's proposed planning system

The NT Government's strategy for reform to improve the current planning system and achieve a best practice planning system involves:

  • six principles to guide the reform - providing certainty; balancing competing interests; ensuring transparency; reducing complexity; incorporating meaningful community participation and consultation; and expanding opportunities for decisions to be reviewed; and
  • three key directions to achieve those principles:
    • strengthen and clarify the planning framework to deliver better planning and development outcomes;
    • make the planning system more open and accountable to improve public understanding and confidence in planning decisions; and
    • improve connections with the public to better value, encourage and support community contributions to planning processes.

It has been identified that a range of changes will need to be made in order to improve the planning system which will involve changes to planning laws and regulations and amendments the NT Planning Scheme as well as a range of more administrative changes, such as development of new information resources, upgrades to online systems and changes to administrative processes. The Directions Paper provides that these changes are to be delivered over two phases:

  • Phase 1 - Priority reforms which consist of fundamental legislative changes; structural planning scheme amendments that are needed to support a renewal of the Scheme in Phase 2; and administrative changes that are reasonably simple to implement. Phase 1 is further detailed in the Phase 1 Priority Reform Paper which is discussed below.
  • Phase 2 - Longer term reforms that rely on a change to law or policy to be completed first through the Phase 1 reforms; and/or require comprehensive research and investigation.

What's covered by the Phase 1 Priority Reform Paper

The Reform Paper essentially identifies those issues comprising Phase 1 of the reform, explains the rationale for the issues and identifies the potential reforms or actions to address those issues. At a glance, the proposed Phase 1 reforms and actions relate to the following:

Strategic land use planning and the Northern Territory Planning Scheme

  • improving community understanding and the transparency of the Northern Territory Planning Commission functions, particularly in relation to community consultation;
  • improving the clarity and availability of information about the NT planning system, particularly amendments to the scheme including the rezoning of land;
  • establishing principles to advance the purposes of the Planning Act (NT);
  • clarifying what a Planning Scheme can include;
  • clarifying the scope for the policy hierarchy within the Planning Scheme which is already broadly acknowledged in the key planning policy documents, but is not identified in the Planning Scheme or the Planning Act ;
  • strengthening the linkages between strategic planning and development assessment, including what is to be considered when assessing an application for development consent;
  • providing a more robust planning scheme amendment processes including criteria to inform the Minister’s consideration of a proposal to amend, matters to be addressed when lodging, public exhibition and deferral and lapsing provisions; and
  • improving integration of planning and infrastructure, including a process to facilitate the development of infrastructure plans and infrastructure contribution plans along with guidelines / principles to support the preparation, format and content of those plans.

Development assessment and application processes

  • improving information on development assessment processes, including online access and development of new factsheets;
  • introducing provisions with respect to a new category of development, ‘High Impact Development’ (the types of proposals to be prescribed in a new Schedule to the Regulations for this category) which requires applicants to (amongst other things) undergo mandatory pre application community consultation;
  • simplifying notification requirements for minor developments so that only a new 'local notification' is required (ie neighbour (including all adjoining property owners) notification and sign only);
  • updating requirements for signs placed on land;
  • expanding the role of electronic services for development notifications and formal correspondence;
  • promoting contact between Planning Officer and submitters on development applications by way of a new assessment process requiring Planning Officers to contact submitters to clarify their concerns and to discuss how they will be assessed against the provisions of the Planning Scheme;
  • facilitating post exhibition / pre determination conferences between applicants and submitters; and
  • reforming the Development Consent Authority including new requirements for appointment, a Code of Conduct and annual reports.

Review of decisions

  • extending third party appeal rights to include land within Zone RL (Rural Living) of the Planning Scheme;
  • introducing a time limit for deferral of an application by the Development Consent Authority when additional information is required from the applicant and associated requirements;
  • introducing a time limit for commencing Exceptional Development Permits (EDPs); and
  • requiring that Reporting Body Reports to the Minister for both EDPs and Concurrent Applications be made publicly available.

Compliance and enforcement

  • introducing Existing Use Rights which are already recognised in other jurisdictions within Australia to protect lawfully established uses or developments that would otherwise become unlawful following an amendment or introduction of a planning scheme;
  • introducing new enforcement tools for the Development Consent Authority, such as powers to issue 'Show Cause Notices' and 'Enforcement Notices' and a new summary offence for failure to comply with an ‘Enforcement Notice’;
  • introducing new appeal rights  with respect to complaints dealt with by the Development Consent Authority and a right of review in the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal with respect to an 'Enforcement Notice';
  • introducing new powers for Authorised Officers to conduct their investigations;
  • increasing of penalty units to provide an effective deterrent;
  • introducing the power to issue penalty infringement notices for a prescribed range of offences to be listed in the Regulations;
  • introducing deeming provisions for owners and occupiers with respect liability for offences;
  • introducing liability provisions for office holders of body corporates; and
  • clarifying that the two-year limitation for prosecution for an alleged offence does not interfere with civil enforcement action allowing for ongoing breaches (within the previous two years) of the Planning Scheme to be prosecuted.

The next stages in the reform process

The Directions Paper states that reforms to improve how planning information is accessed and internal administrative systems and processes has already commenced.

It is understood that following Stage 2 of the consultation process, the Phase 1 legislation and planning scheme amendments will be drafted and released for further feedback, prior to be being tabled in parliament in 2019. It is also noted that:

  • all Phase 1 reforms are to be completed in 2019; and
  • the majority of Phase 2 reforms are to be completed in 2020.

Having your say on the future direction of NT planning system

Written submissions on the Directions Paper and Phase 1 Priority Reform Paper can be made until Friday 7 September 2018 to the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics in accordance with the "Have your say" website.

Please contact us should you require any assistance with your submission. 

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