Last August, the NSW Government announced that Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels (IHAPs) would become mandatory across NSW. This decision is one of the worst I have seen on my time on Council, for two reasons. Firstly, it strips the community from having a direct voice in Development Applications. Secondly, it is more bureaucracy and cost to our community that will not improve outcomes.
Currently, Councillors have the ability to act on development applications that go through the Development Assessment Unit or through the chamber. As community objectors or supporters make their views known to us, we are able to accept, reject or amend development consents to ensure that community sentiment is reflected in the decision of Council.
The introduction of the IHAPs means that Councillors, or more accurately the community, no longer play any role in the DA process. If a community member objects to a development – they now have no decision maker to directly call or see. The IHAP members are unknown, not available to be contacted, not accountable directly to the community and the process is less transparent than the current setup.
We already have the Sydney West Central Planning Panel for proposals over $20 million as one layer of unnecessary bureaucracy that takes decisions away from the community, and the IHAPs for proposals over $5 million that will add another unnecessary layer. The cost of running the IHAPS to Council will be $132,000 a year plus travel expenses for members – all of which is a cost shift from the State Government, and your rates will be used to pay for it. What park should not be embellished, or project rolled out, or grant not given out for the cost of the community losing their voice?
At the Council meeting on the 13th of February, Council resolved not to begin the process of appointing members to the IHAP. Passing any other motion would have been endorsing the IHAP process. The Hills, along with several Sydney Councils have attempted to take the communities views on this matter directly to the minister. The fight will continue.