The Department has collaborated with many councils since the release of the Development Assessment Best Practice Guide. A number of those councils are in the process of implementing practices and procedures to streamline development assessment processes.
Blacktown City Council, Liverpool City Council and City of Parramatta Council have provided real life case studies, outlining their best practice processes and why the change was needed, in the hope of sharing their learnings with the public and other local councils.
Our Council has embedded a culture of continuous improvement.
The initial goal in the first financial year (2016-17), following the amalgamation of the former Bankstown and Canterbury City Councils, was to achieve a gross median determination time for all development applications of 45 days. This target was met.
Following this achievement, Council set an additional goal of reducing processing times further. The target set for the 2017-18 financial year was 40 days, and this was achieved, with a gross median determination times of 40 days for all development applications being met.
There were three critical aspects our Council focused on to drive improvements – process, structure, and culture (leadership). We knew it would be important to make sure all these things were changed at the same time so they could support each other (i.e. changes to process supported by structural changes and leadership).
The Premier’s Priority target of 40 days, and the amalgamation of the former Canterbury and Bankstown Councils, gave us the opportunity to reassess our current processes, which would lead to improved efficiency and outcomes for our Council.
We introduced several changes to embed a culture of continuous improvement:
Our new process supports building personal relationships both with the customer, the community and with other areas of the council – Planners collaborate with other parts of the business (e.g. engineers and tree management officers). This builds both relationships and the knowledge base of individual planners to improve their professional judgement and decision making.
Data is tracked and communicated monthly to drive performance improvements. This was successful in bringing processing times down. There has also been an improvement in the consistency of timeframes for processing each section, which has made it easier to track and plan work.
Additional time and support is given to customers at pre-lodgement stage to make sure that the application is as complete as possible, any potential issues are identified and flagged early, and the relationship with the customer is established.
A simultaneous focus on process, structure and culture can lead to critical improvements in reducing housing approval time.
Leadership is critical in driving a customer service focus. The General Manager and Directors have been instrumental in leading the change in this organisation as they have always promoted a strong customer service culture and commitment to continuous improvement.
We introduced a free project meeting service for developers delivering large projects in urban release areas. The meetings bring council’s key stakeholders together with developers to enable a discussion of issues, upcoming projects, opportunities and possible impediments.
The meetings are offered monthly or quarterly, depending on developers’ needs, and occur over the life of the projects. The service is available for residential, industrial and commercial developments.
The meetings enable better management of projects from inception to completion, and for issues to be tabled and dealt with as they arise. Problems can be resolved early on, or strategies to resolve issues can be mutually agreed from the outset.
We saw a need to be in better contact with developers, rather than just through phone calls, emails, and pre-lodgement meetings. The previous pre-lodgement meeting process only catered for single development proposals and did not allow for a holistic consideration of longer-term projects (i.e. those requiring more than one development application (DA)). Applicants also indicated they wanted more contact with council and guidance throughout the whole project.
Running the project meetings means that issues are pre-empted, solutions are devised and timelines are set for actions by both parties. The meetings improve the development assessment process as they provide council officers with a forum to communicate issues and thrash out problems.
We started initiating project meetings with developers to get a better appreciation of their proposals/projects.
The initial meeting will usually be attended by senior management to identify what is likely to be an issue and to share some examples of the good, bad and the ugly that applicants should be aware of.
A project meeting schedule is agreed on at the initial meeting. The nature and scale of a proposal will determine the frequency of the meetings, and the timetable is worked around developers’ timeframes for progressing the project.
We have established a pre-lodgement, enquiries and development application (DA) lodgement team, known as the ‘Gateway Team’.
The team helps applicants understand planning controls, processes and how to prepare DAs. Advice is provided over the counter, by telephone, emails, letters and in meetings. In delivering this service, we:
This approach frees up our DA assessment officers so they can solely concentrate on processing DAs.
We can accommodate up to 9 pre-lodgement meetings per week. The meetings are minuted and written advice is sent to applicants within 14 days of the meeting.
The team consists of five town planners, a team leader and support staff. We also have building surveyors and engineers available to answer technical questions, such as potential civil and drainage issues or issues under the Building Code of Australia.
We were experiencing delays in processing DAs because of inadequate information being submitted, a lack of understanding of the relevant development controls and insufficient appreciation of local circumstances.
Our development assessment planners were also finding it difficult to find the quality, uninterrupted time they needed to assess DAs.
We sought input from our officers and examined best practice processes used by similar councils, including:
We also engaged an external consultant to review our work practices and make recommendations about improvements we could make.
The outcome of the review was that we re-structured our development assessment unit to create three key professional teams:
Team leaders are given the opportunity to rotate between these teams, to enable fresh ideas to be implemented and for professional variety.
Council has introduced policy reforms and a digital platform to fast track approval for low-risk developments.
The platform, called FastTrack, uses technology to enable efficient lodgement, easier document transfers and faster assessments, resulting in turnaround times of 3 to 10 days for low risk development applications (DAs). A number are assessed in as little as 24 hours.
The need for change was clear. Council has a rapidly growing local government area and average assessment times across all DA types were excessive. Before the launch of FastTrack, development approval for a dwelling would typically take 75 days.
Before FastTrack was implemented, low-risk, low-impact development was being processed in the same manner as high-value, high-impact development. Demand for faster DA assessments was increasing as new land release areas opened up.
Working within the existing legislation, council identified the assessment framework and planning controls necessary to deliver good outcomes, and developed new assessment processes that were more suitable for less complex developments.
Implementation began with a soft launch of the tool and framework to specific project home builders, before the formal launch to the wider community occurred in mid-2016.
Council included performance monitoring of FastTrack as a key performance indicator in our Community Strategic Program, which (from a policy perspective) further justifies our continued attention to FastTrack’s performance.
FastTrack is now available for a range of development types on approximately 44,000 properties across the city.
Development consents and construction certificates are being issued within an average of 3 days, a 96% improvement to the average approval time for a dwelling prior to the initiative.
Council staff can now focus their time on larger, more complex DAs and applicants can start construction sooner.
While moving aspects of the DA process online was beneficial in terms of streamlining lodgement and document transfers, it was the re-working of the approvals process itself that led to such substantial improvements.
Council has an active continuous improvement program and has undertaken numerous development application (DA) handling practices and procedures which helped inform the recently released DA Best Practice Guide. Key among council’s initiatives are efficient lodgement and preliminary assessment practices which focus on improving the quality of applications lodged. This has enabled council to ensure issues are identified and resolved at the outset and this means we have seen an improvement in the time it takes to determine DAs. In particular, straightforward DAs are typically dealt with within 40 days.
Council identified two key issues in managing DA timeframes. Firstly, ensuring well prepared and complete DAs were submitted by applicants and secondly, the ability of council to identify and work to resolve any issues with DAs early on, so assessment can begin sooner.
Parramatta is experiencing rapid growth and a combination of work volume and complex planning matters meant probable delays would occur in the assessment and determination of straightforward DAs.
We introduced several changes to increase accountability and clarity on responsibility for tasks. For example, we introduced checklists (e.g. stormwater checklist to be completed by the applicant’s engineer to increase quality of information submitted) and started checking DAs for engineering compliance straight after lodgement. We implemented stricter deadlines for site inspections and increased our target setting beyond weekly to better forecast for results.
The quantitative results, at this stage, are difficult to measure. However, our new processes have caused the median assessment timeframes to be reduced to only 39 days in some cases.
DA issues are now typically identified within 10 days of allocation, engineering referrals typically meet the 14 day target; and the quality of engineering information with lodgement has improved and is better understood by applicants.
Early, onsite identification of issues can lead to shorter processing times.
Having very specific checklists help to ensure assessable DAs are received from the outset (e.g. a very specific stormwater checklist can assist with culling non-complying schemes before lodgement).
Page last updated: 13/06/2019