ICAC recommends changes to the NSW planning system to minimise corruption risks

Wednesday 15 February 2012

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) recommends that the NSW Government adopts safeguards to ensure greater transparency, accountability and openness to minimise corruption risks in the NSW planning system.

In its report, Anti-corruption safeguards and the NSW planning system, the Commission recommends that the NSW Government takes steps to reduce the complexity of the planning system, makes it mandatory for major strategic policy documents to be considered during the making of planning instruments, and ensures that its system for assessing and approving developments of state significance provides adequate opportunities for competing public interests to be considered.

The Commission also recommends that the government should ensure that planning authorities are required to provide regular information and updates to the public about development applications under assessment, including any significant changes made to an application.

Altogether the Commission has made 16 recommendations and identified six key anti-corruption safeguards to help minimise corruption in the NSW planning system. The safeguards include providing certainty, balancing competing public interests, ensuring transparency, reducing complexity, meaningful community participation and consultation, and expanding the scope of third party merit appeals.

While the ICAC's report was commenced independently of the NSW planning system review currently underway, it is being provided to the joint chairs of the review as a submission on their December 2011 issues paper, The way ahead for planning in NSW? Issues Paper of the NSW Planning System Review. The report is also being provided to the NSW Minister for Planning and Infrastructure and the Department of Planning and Infrastructure.

Since commencing operations in 1989, the Commission has produced 30 reports exposing likely and actual corrupt conduct involving the NSW planning system, along with numerous reports concerning the potential for corruption within the system and recommendations to eliminate or minimise those risks.

The Commission says that the creation of a new planning system provides opportunities to incorporate and integrate corruption prevention safeguards to a greater degree than is currently in place. "Improving on the transparency, accountability and openness in the NSW planning system would do much to reinstate confidence in the governance of planning in NSW," the report says.  "This, however, requires imagination and foresight to avoid the regulatory gridlock that is typically associated with controls to prevent corruption."

To address concerns that the state government does not have similar protections to local councils where legislation ensures council staff are not subject to the direction by councillors on the content of advice or recommendations, the ICAC recommends that the NSW Minister for Planning and Infrastructure considers adopting a protocol that ministerial decisions that disagree with departmental planning recommendations, and the reasons to adopt an alternative approach, are documented and made publicly available.

The Commission notes that while voluntary planning agreements (VPAs) are seen as a solution to the funding and delivery of infrastructure issues facing councils, they also have the capacity to distort decision-making on development proposals and exclude community participation.

The ICAC therefore recommends that the NSW Government introduces changes to VPAs that are consistent with those proposed in the yet-to-commence Schedule 3 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment Act 2008, which includes establishing reasonableness as a consideration in making VPAs and ensuring that council VPAs do not involve public infrastructure without ministerial agreement in certain circumstances. The Commission also recommends that the NSW Government mandates that public submissions are to be considered by a planning authority following the exhibition of a draft VPA.

Full report: Anti-corruption safeguards and the NSW planning system

Media enquiries:

ICAC Manager Communications and Media, Nicole Thomas, 02 8281 5799 / 0417 467 801