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History of independent planning bodies

The Commission and its predecessors 

Dating back to the 1980s, there have been a number of independent bodies set up by the NSW Government to make decisions and/or provide advice on complex and contentious planning and development matters. The function and role of these bodies has evolved over the years.

Independent Planning Commission (2018 – present) 

The Independent Planning Commission was established as a standalone agency under Part 2, Division 2.3 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act) on 1 March 2018. It replaced the Planning Assessment Commission. 

The Commission is an independent consent authority for state significant development and provides advice on planning matters when requested by the Minister of Planning and Public Spaces or Planning Secretary. 

Review of the Commission 2019

In October 2019, the former Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, the Honourable Rob Stokes MP, asked the state’s Productivity Commissioner to conduct a review of the Independent Planning Commission. The terms of reference are available here.

Mr Peter Achterstraat AM finalised his review in December 2019, which examined, among other things, whether it is in the public interest to maintain an Independent Planning Commission, and the operations and processes of the Commission in the state’s planning framework.

The review found that an independent decision-making function strengthens the planning system by minimising the risk of corruption or undue political influence. 

The principal recommendation in the review was that the Commission plays an important role in maintaining the integrity of the planning system and should be retained as an independent decision-making body for contentious state significant development. 

The other 11 recommendations were aimed at addressing the timeliness, consistency, clarity, and integrity of the Commission’s processes and were grouped in two themes: 

  • strengthening the independence and governance of the Commission 
  • improving performance. 

On 1 February 2020, the Minister announced the NSW Government had accepted all recommendations. Read the review report here; and the Minister’s media release here.

The review recommendations have now been fully implemented.

Planning Assessment Commission (2008 – 2018)

The NSW Planning Assessment Commission was established on 3 November 2008 under section 23B of the EP&A Act to determine applications for major developments, to review and carry out public hearings into any planning related matter, and to provide independent expert advice to government on planning and development matters.

Members were appointed by the Minister and had expertise in the fields of planning, architecture, urban design, heritage, the environment, land economics, engineering, traffic and transport, tourism, law, government, and public administration.

A ministerial delegation applied which defined the types of application that were referred to the Commission for determination. These included applications where a reportable political donation had been made by an applicant, applications objected to by the relevant council, and applications where more than 25 objections were received by the Department of Planning and Environment.

The Commission also carried out reviews of any aspect of a development and held public hearings if requested to do so by the Minister or Secretary. Each review had its own terms of reference, which set out the Commission’s review task. The Planning Assessment Commission ceased on 1 March 2018 when the Independent Planning Commission was created.

Commissioners of Inquiry for Environment and Planning (1980 – 2008) 

The Office of the Commissioners of Inquiry for Environment and Planning was created under the EP&A Act to conduct independent public inquiries into disputes concerning environmental and heritage issues, planning problems, and development projects.

A Commission of Inquiry reported its findings and recommendations to the Minister and to the public. The Minister was required to consider the findings and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry before determining the outcome of a particular development application.

Four commissioners including the chair were appointed by the Governor of NSW. The commissioners had qualifications and experience including in the fields of law, planning and development control, building regulation, local government, engineering, and environmental control. Public hearings were also carried out by Commissions of Inquiry and, after 1988, local councils were also given the power to request inquiries into significant developments where they were the consent authority.

The Office of the Commissioners of Inquiry for Environment and Planning ceased to exist on 3 November 2008 when the Planning Assessment Commission was created.





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