23 May 2013

NSW planning reforms: A new approach to strategic planning

by Brendan Bateman

Strategic planning in NSW would be guided by a core set of principles, if the planning reforms are adopted.

Part 3 of NSW's draft Planning Bill is essentially a rewrite of Part 3 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act) regarding the making of planning instruments.

One of the main differences however, is the intention to have strategic alignment of all plans through the adoption of a set of planning principles to guide the implementation and delivery of a limited number of core Government strategies. Those planning principles give precedence to promoting the State's economy through facilitating delivery of development in a sustainable way. This includes integrating development with infrastructure and streamlining approval of development which is consistent with agreed plans with a focus on early community consultation.

A new hierarchy of plans

While we are familiar with a hierarchy of environmental planning instruments that currently exist under the EP&A Act, there will be a new hierarchy of plans under the Planning Bill:

  • NSW planning policies: these are a set of integrated policies that represent the State's broad planning objectives, priorities and policy directions. They are intended to be in line with other key NSW policies (such as transport) and incorporate where relevant the strategic elements of existing State environmental planning policies (SEPPs) and section 117 directions. There is intended to be a small number of core planning issues of State significance such as housing, employment/growth, environment, agriculture, energy and infrastructure.
  • Regional growth plans: these will provide a high-level vision for each region, establish objectives and planning policies relating to housing, employment, the environment and infrastructure, and identify key regional shapers of significance (such as ports, agriculture and so on). These plans will not directly zone land or contain regulations on development.
  • Subregional delivery plans: these provide the delivery framework for regional growth plans. These will identify actions and obligations for the subregion such as housing targets. There is particular focus on integrating infrastructure and these plans will set mandatory development parameters to shape subsequent development. These plans will be developed by subregional boards, a new planning body to be established under the Planning Administration Bill, comprising representatives from councils in the subregion and State representatives. This is intended to be the "new partnership" model for collaboration between the various tiers of government and associated agencies.
  • Local plans: these will be the key planning instruments which gives legal effect to the plans and policies applicable to the area to which they relate. All planning and infrastructure requirements are to be accessible in the local plans. Accordingly, one of the challenges presented by the reform of the planning regime is to ensure that the local plans are consistent with, and adequately reflect, the higher order plans.

All roads lead to …

The primacy afforded to Local Plans is a noticeable departure from the existing planning regime where SEPPs would commonly be relied on to overrule LEPs. As a consequence of this change, it is considered no longer necessary for the Planning Bill to contain a provision equivalent to section 36 of the EP&A Act to resolve inconsistencies between planning instruments.

Local Plans will comprise four key parts:

  • The strategic context: This is intended to summarise and give effect to the policies and objectives of the higher order plans, including the Subregional Delivery Plans;
  • Statutory planning controls: It is proposed that these controls be simplified with a shift to fewer, broader zones to increase compatibility of development. The number of zones will reduce from 35 to 13;
  • Development guides: This will incorporate all existing State wide exempt and complying development categories. Development guides will also be performance based rather than prescriptive. Performance criteria will be specified with "acceptable solutions" which illustrate the preferred way of complying with performance criteria. Applicants, however, can come up with their own solutions that satisfy those criteria; and
  • Contributions for local and regional infrastructure.

Councils will be responsible for certifying that the Local Plan complies with the policies and objectives of NSW planning policies, Regional Growth Plans and Subregional Delivery Plans.


To assist with making information about strategic planning accessible to the community, the Department of Planning and Infrastructure is to establish a portal which provides electronic access to planning information, including development controls. In this way, information about planning assessment should be readily accessible and capable of being embedded in relevant Local Plans.


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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.