Greens MLC David Shoebridge found support from ICAC in his campaign against some proposed planning law changes.
Greens MLC David Shoebridge found support from ICAC in his campaign against some proposed planning law changes. Trevor Veale

ICAC warning over planning laws

PUBLIC confidence in government will be undermined and corruption encouraged by changes to planning laws, according to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

In a submission to the O'Farrell governments green paper on reforms, ICAC said introducing flexibility "will create a corruption risk, especially when combined with the potential for proponents to obtain huge windfall profits through obtaining an approval."

"Lack of certainty is a key cause of inconsistent decision making which undermines public confidence in the planning system," it said.

One of the most polarising changes is the decision to allow councillors to participate in planning matters where they have a vested interest, provided they announce that interest in advance.

NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge has spent months urging caution on this and other key changes which he believes will leave communities open to the interests of developers with few protections.

"It's of great concern that a policy of 'merit assessment' would see controls relaxed and developers given open slather on planning issues," he said.

"When you remove the rule of law, the floodgates open and money will always find a way."

Mr Shoebridge has made appeals to Premier O'Farrell and relevant ministers Brad Hazzard and Don Page handling Local Government, Planning and Infrastructure, to maintain controls.

But he readily admits he's run into a brick wall.

"The Coalition government is immune to hearing commonsense and seem doggedly determined to deliver for the property men," he said.

"Changes allowing matters to be privately certified, all paid for by developers, will lead to institutionalised corruption and conflicts of interest."

Coffs Harbour Mayor Cr Denise Knight said the council's interest was in a transparent and accountable planning process for all stakeholders.

"This is what Coffs Harbour City Council has pursued in its submission to the State Government," she said.

"I understand there have been widespread concerns regarding the proposed amendments to planning laws that would allow councillors to vote on matters in which they have a personal interest, providing it is declared.

"The fact is there are a diverse range of views, including those of ICAC, the Local Government and Shires Association, the Urban Development Institute of Australia and many others.

"The promotion of those views will ultimately assist in determining the outcome that will be pursued by the government."

Cr Knight felt the ICAC comments on the green paper referred to just one aspect of a broader issue.

"This green paper provides the opportunity to review and renew legislation that has been in place for over 30 years," she said.

"My view is it aims to create a better system for all stakeholders who find themselves within the planning framework from time to time.

"It provides an avenue for us all to contribute to a more effective, transparent and accountable planning system for NSW."