Planning Panel proves to be more costly, says Tesch

The Central Coast Local Planning Panel that was introduced to make planning decision-making more transparent, efficient and accountable has proven to be just the opposite, according to the Member for Gosford Ms Liesl Tesch.
She said the real reason behind the change was to provide a rubber stamp for development.
The panel had cost more in time, money and resources for the Council.
Ms Tesch said that, despite the name, the panel was not even local.
“The Local Planning Panel has been put in charge of making decisions that will affect our community, yet only a sole community member is actually a local, with the Minister’s hand-picked chair and the nominated expert panel members not coming from the Central Coast.”
Ms Tesch said that despite assurances that the Panel would be accountable and transparent, there was no option to contact the members directly, unlike Council staff and councillors, making it more difficult for the community to petition for or against developments or have their voice heard.
“When local decisions are made by those who don’t live in or understand our area and aren’t accountable to the community for decisions they make, we all lose out,” she said.
However, Parliamentary Secretary for Central Coast, Mr Adam Crouch, said the Central Coast Local Planning Panel removed politics from the local planning system.
“It allows independent experts to get on with the job of making merit-based determinations and this occurs within the strategic parameters set by Central Coast Council.
“All local planning panels, including ours, must consider community feedback, publish the reasons for its decision making, and demonstrate how community views are accounted for.
“I have absolute confidence that the chair has expertise and experience to ensure the correct processes are followed, including consideration of community feedback.
“Putting planning decisions in the hands of an independent chair, expert panel members and a community representative ensures that development applications are determined on merit.,” he said.
Ms Tesch said: “For just the 40-minute-long first meeting, $5500 was paid in fees to panel members and they didn’t even announce their decision on the two items – telling the community that it will be published later.
“The Local Planning Panel comprises the Chair who receives $2000 per meeting, the expert members who receive $1500 per meeting, and a community member who receives $500 per meeting.
“Central Coast Council staff are required to facilitate the Local Planning Panel, costing ratepayers an estimated $300,000 extra per year, with around $110,000 of this in fees to panel members alone,” she said.
“The Central Coast is a unique area, and not just another part of Sydney and the suburbs surrounding it, but out-of- town panel members may not see that distinction.
“Developments need reflect our community and drowning out our voices means the NSW Government is ensuring we have no power over decisions that will ultimately impact us,” Ms Tesch said.
The Local Planning Panel comprises the Chair, Ms Donna Rygate, appointed by the Planning Minister, and three professionals decided by Council from a pool of 220 put forward by the State Government and community representatives Ms Lynette Hunt and Mr Geoffrey Mitchell appointed by Council.

Media release, 17 Jun 2020
Liesl Tesch, Member for Gosford
Media statement, 25 Jun 2020
Adam Crouch, Parliamentary Secretary Central Coast