Sartor stomps on local councils

FRANK Sartor has been accused of being cash-grabbing and secretive after he pushed a controversial new planning bill through State Parliament under the cover of darkness.

The bill was passed at 2am yesterday after a long debate and amid claims the Government made the changes while the public's attention was focused on the State Budget.

North Coast mayors have been calling for the Government to slow down the process and give councils and the public a proper chance to debate the proposed changes, which will transform the way planning is done in the State.

But it doesn't look like Minister Sartor has taken any notice.

Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils executive officer Russell Kelly said there was widespread concern the changes would undermine local democracy and take planning powers away from elected council representatives.

"We are happy to see the process changing, but this is being done at breakneck speed," he said.

Mr Sartor announced the package of proposed changes late last year, saying the new planning system was designed to reduce processing times for development applications.

A Government media advisor yesterday said the Minister would not comment on the speed at which the bill had progressed because 'it simply wasn't true'.

Mr Sartor said the changes were the result of substantial consultation.

"As Planning Minister I have a responsibility to speak up and address these (planning) issues," he said. "Local Government can't keep its head in the sand.

"We have to meet the challenges of the 21st Century."

Councils say the new bill will 'take councillors out of the picture' by giving more power to unelected planning panels and private certifiers.

Another issue was that building codes and certain types of development would be assessed according to a 'one-size fits all checklist'.

Mr Kelly said it was likely this would lead to a loss of local control and community character.

He feared development application fees would rise and average families would have little say on what went up around them.

Ballina mayor Phillip Silver saw no need for unelected planning panels, but was relieved the use of developer contributions to fund community infrastructure would be largely unchanged.

Clarence Nationals MP Steve Cansdell described the laws as a Sydney cash grab benefiting big developers.

He and Ballina MP Don Page said the Opposition would call for an Upper House inquiry into the issue.

Mr Kelly said there were some positive changes 'bundled up with the bad'.

Developers would be unable to lodge development applications until they could provide all the information required, stopping applications from clogging up the system, he said.

The bill has to be passed by the Legislative Council before it becomes law.


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