Experienced planning professionals will lead the panels, which will assess DAs that are sensitive in nature, or where there is a conflict of interest for council or developers.
Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels (IHAPs) will become mandatory for all councils in Sydney and Wollongong to guard against corruption and lead to better local planning decisions.
Minister for Planning and Housing, Anthony Roberts, and Minister for Local Government, Gabrielle Upton, announced the Government would set clear criteria for which development applications (DAs) are to go to the panels.
Mr Roberts said that mandatory IHAPs would bring expertise, transparency and integrity to the assessment of DAs at the local level.
“It is essential the Government has a transparent and accountable process in place when assessing DAs of significant value, when there is a conflict of interest for the council or developer, or when they are of a sensitive nature,” Mr Roberts said.
“By making IHAPs mandatory, local councils will be able to focus on providing community services, strategic plans and development controls for their local area.”
Mr Roberts pointed out that Wollongong and 15 Sydney metropolitan councils were already successfully using IHAPs on a voluntary basis.
The new Bill will propose a standard model for IHAPs comprising three independent expert members and a community member.
The community member will represent the geographical area within the LGA of the proposed development, to provide local perspective.
“Introducing IHAPs will provide additional safeguards, expertise and transparency into planning decisions,” Ms Upton said.
“We expect these panels to give communities and ratepayers greater certainty about planning decisions.”
IHAP members will have to be expert in one or more of the following fields: planning, architecture, heritage, the environment, urban design, economics, traffic and transport, law, engineering, tourism, or government and public administration.
The chair must also have expertise in law or government and public administration.
The panel members themselves will be subject to statutory rules such as a compulsory code of conduct and operational procedures for the panels.
Further selection criteria will be outlined in the recruitment process.
Councils will be able to share a panel to improve efficiencies and in the regional parts of the state, panels would remain voluntary.
Local councils will still process most applications for individual houses or alterations to existing houses.