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Public interest test gone as planners take over, says Greens councillor

Greens councillor Ben Moroney

Greens councillor Ben Moroney says the new system of approving developments no longer includes the public interest test.

The new planning system has thrown out the baby with the bath water, says Macarthur Greens councillor Ben Moroney.

He says the introduction of local planning panels has resulted in the removal of the public interest test in determining development applications.

Cr Moroney, who was first elected to Campbelltown Council in 2016, says taking councillors out of the equation is anything but an improvement on the system.

“There’s a fundamental, philosophical point about councillors and our role in development – councillors embody the public interest,’’ he told the Voice in an interview,’’ he said.

“Council staff are there to assess developments on the law – the legal and planning side of it.

“Our job as councillors is to take that information and apply the public interest test – is this development in the interest of that community, in the interests of our LGA?

“And that’s an important role; it doesn’t mean it’s always done properly and that’s where I think all this stuff has come out – ‘councillors being dodgy’.

“And no one would say there’s no dodgy councillors in NSW

“The trouble is no one would say there’s no dodgy ministers in NSW either, and it’s the opposite of who watches the watchmen, it’s like, which crook is overseeing the crook,’’ he said.

Cr Moroney believes that the removal of the public interest test has tipped the balance too far the other way, with planners or technocrats now ruling the roost.

“If you look at Campbelltown IHAP [Independent Hearing and Assessment Panel], for example, we’ve got a chair appointed by the minister for planning, we’ve got two planning experts, chosen from a list given to us by the minister for planning, and there was even an argument where people were concerned that the community representative, the fourth person, wasn’t a planner,’’ he said.

“You need that public interest test, someone from the community who doesn’t see it in terms of zoning laws and DCP [Development Control Plans] and building codes, and sees it in terms of infrastructure, the community,’’ Cr Moroney said.

He’s also concerned that the IHAPs give a “tremendous’’ amount of power to council staff that they didn’t previously have.

“And I am not saying that as any kind of condemnation of Campbelltown Council staff; I have faith in Campbelltown council’s planning staff, but the trouble is I have faith in the oversight which leads our staff back to us,’’ he explains.

“I have faith that the planning staff of Campbelltown have to put something together that will pass council.

“This is a very important part of oversight, it’s the same as having a board – the directors or the executives have to put together a proposal to the board that they think will pass.

“But what you’ve got now, you’ve replaced the council with a set of planners who aren’t from the area, and aren’t subject to pressures from the community, which means that more than likely than not you’ve got a panel that does what the staff tell them to do.

“When staff are operating in that mode of accountability as council, that’s fine.

“But in two generations of turnover of council staff, which is not long in the scheme of things, you’re going to get people coming in who understand you don’t have to answer to the community when they put a plan together; they only have to answer to this group of wonks who meet once a month, who have no connection to the area.’’

The Voice also invited Cr Moroney to comment on the recent launch of Re-imagining Campbelltown, a proposal put together by consultants to attract investment and jobs and a carbon neutral CBD.

He said he was satisfied Re-imagining Campbelltown was “the best possible reaction to a situation we’ve been given by the state government’’.

“It’s our rebranding of the government’s priority precincts,’’ he said.

“State Government has said all seven railway stations in the Campbelltown LGA are going to be upzoned, so we have taken that and run with it a bit.

“We want to make sure we’re controlling how it all goes rather than sitting back and letting the state government bulldoze it.

“So that way we can try to work in protection and get things exempted from the rezoning, like some of the heritage buildings.’’

Cr Moroney says Re-Imagining Campbelltown could provide heritage protection by having new high rise buildings set back from the street frontage and lower heights to protect the integrity of heritage buildings.

“I am not in favour of the way the state government’s gone about it, no, it was basically a ‘like it or lump it approach’.

“They basically looked at a map around railway stations and thrown zoning dots at it,’’ Cr Moroney said.

“And when you go through the plan you can tell it was done by somebody in Macquarie Street.

“So, no, I am not a fan of how they went about it, but I think they have pulled back a little bit.’’

On the recently signed City Deal, Cr Moroney says “the mayor and the general manager put a lot of work trying to negotiate stuff’’ for no extra returns.

“The stuff we’ve been promised in the City Deal is stuff we should be getting anyway to help us cope with the growth that’s on the way,’’ Cr Moroney said.

“A rail line from Campbelltown to the airport is not something we should get by putting concessions on the table.

“It’s a no brainer.

“Whether it’s a fast bus transit service before the airport is built or a liveability fund for Western Sydney – we should be getting the money to do these projects.

“We should not have to be tying up our council staff and our mayor in hours and hours and hours of meetings just to get stuff we all know we need.

“I don’t think we’re going to get any better out of it [City Deal] and we do need what’s coming out of it.’’


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