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.
City of Canterbury Bankstown
Embedding a culture of continuous improvement
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:
- Development Application approval times have been embedded as a KPI across Council’s Management team, to drive a shared responsibility for meeting targets. This has supported a significant improvement in collaboration and communication across teams, as all parts of the organisation are working together.
- Detailed process mapping of the assessment process has occurred, particularly where a reliance on other areas within Council exist. In addition, our Council has focused on how technology and its new smart city agenda can assist the Planning Department.
- Additional training opportunities have been provided for assessment staff, particularly in areas of urban design, in order to better equip assessment officers to strive for higher quality development outcomes.
- Improved collaboration across Council through Enterprise Partner relationship models for the Human Resources, Communications, and Finance teams.
- Leadership courses to broaden the management skills of emerging leaders within our team.
- Accountability sits with individual planners who are personally responsible for signing off plans. Quality assurance is provided by peer review and audits to maintain quality.
- Planners manage their applications in a manner that encourages improved customer service. They communicate with the customer earlier in the assessment process to start building the relationship, which means they can be proactive about any issues that arise.
- Strong visual management in place to drive achievement – assessment targets and achievements are clearly visible throughout the office to remind the team of the target and to keep striving towards it. Success is celebrated regularly with the team through awards and recognition of individual and team achievements.
- Planners are encouraged to reflect often on their service to the community, and the positive, lasting legacy they can have by ensuring development is in the best interests of the suburb and contributes to liveability and community.
- Customer surveys are sent out with each determination to seek the feedback of the community.
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.
Blacktown City Council
Project meeting process case study
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.
- Our project meetings have been a great success, with several project meetings being held regularly with key developers.
- Our Development Services Manager attends meetings to ensure that, where possible, decisions are made at meetings.
- Specialists are brought in from both sides to resolve issues on the agenda.
- Discussions at these meetings are robust and productive.
- Applicants appreciate the face-to-face interaction and dialogue. The meetings facilitate faster solutions and ensure all parties leave with a better understanding of what all stakeholders hope to achieve.
- Project meetings facilitate an open dialogue between councils and developers.
- The quality of communications with developers will improve through regular face-to-face discussions. This is not always the case when communication occurs only through emails and phone calls. Meetings help parties to resolve problems around the table and reach compromises.
- A holistic consideration of projects allows both sides to understand the bigger picture, rather than a consideration of each DA individually.
- Regular meetings allow actions to be scheduled for both parties to complete before the next meeting, allow plans to be made and ensure accountability and progression.
- Meetings with applicants should be attended by council staff with authority to make decisions.
- Project meetings enable councils to manage applicants, their DAs and allow the project team to closely monitor projects from inception to completion.
Blacktown CouncilContact: Judith Portelli, Manager, Development Assessment
Blacktown City Council
62 Flushcombe Road, Blacktown, NSW, 2148
Phone: 9839 6228
Blacktown City Council
The Gateway Team case study
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:
- provide guidelines for all scales of development,
- identify State environmental planning policies that may apply,
- nominate service authorities that should be contacted,
- highlight potential issues with developments (e.g. flooding, salinity and bushfire), and specify issues that will require investigation by a technical specialist,
- identify service authorities who should be consulted,
- calculate section 7.11 contributions,
- provide free pre-lodgement meetings for customers with council specialists, and
- review each DA on lodgement.
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:
- required staffing,
- pre-lodgement meeting fees,
- consistency between pre-lodgement advice and post-lodgement assessment,
- whether incomplete DAs were rejected, and
- whether those processes resulted in reduced requests for additional information after lodgement.
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:
- Project Team (to deal with major and more significant developments).
- Development Team (to deal with the vast majority of development applications).
- Gateway Team (pre-lodgements, lodgements, and enquiries).
Team leaders are given the opportunity to rotate between these teams, to enable fresh ideas to be implemented and for professional variety.
- The permissibility and feasibility of projects can be considered at the outset and before applicants spend time and money on preparing DAs.
- Issues are identified and addressed early in the process, resulting in cost savings.
- Applicants are assured of timely assessments when all issues are identified at pre-lodgement and appropriately addressed.
- The quality of DAs has improved markedly and there has been a reduction in determination times.
- Assessment planners are now in a position to focus their time on assessments.
- As more research time can be dedicated to general enquiries, we can provide greater accuracy and depth of advice to members of the public.
- Our staff turn-over has reduced.
- A premium free pre-lodgement service encourages participation and promotes us as a more communitive and accessible council.
- Having senior staff at meetings promotes reliability and accuracy of advice, and sends a message that the process is being taken seriously.
- Our officers explain the DA process and technical concepts to once-off or small scale applicants in plain English, which is a high priority in Blacktown.
- Gateway town planners are available for extended hours (between 8am and 5:30pm weekdays) allowing applicants to better access dedicated advice.
- The number of requests for information post-lodgement have been significantly reduced.
- Having a dedicated team focusing on high quality customer service ensures that there is consistency of advice, and allows assessment planners to concentrate on processing DAs.
- During quieter periods of the year, the Gateway town planners can provide “back up” assistance to assessment planners, and can processes a small number of DAs themselves.
- A one hour time slot for pre-lodgement meetings has proven successful as most pre-lodgement meetings can be dealt with thoroughly within the hour.
- A dedicated minute-taker is invaluable. They free up senior staff to focus solely on the discussion, enabling them to provide robust and reliable advice. It also ensures minutes are provided in a standard template.
- This is an evolving process: we constantly look to improve our processes based on feedback from our customers.
- A two week lead-in time for pre-lodgement meetings is appropriate, as this ensures staff resourcing can be managed and applicants’ plans can be studied properly before the date of the meeting.
- Having senior staff at the meetings helps ensure decisions can be made on the spot without hesitation or doubt.
- Inadequate DAs are much easier to address at the pre-lodgement stage rather than post lodgement. We have the opportunity at pre-lodgement to provide useful feedback, reducing the likelihood that information requests will be made.
- An online booking service for pre-lodgement meetings simplifies the process.
Contact: Judith Portelli, Manager, Development Assessment
Blacktown City Council
62 Flushcombe Road, Blacktown, NSW, 2148
Phone: 9839 6228
Liverpool City Council
FastTrack digital platform case study
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.
- Councils should ensure their assessment and notification requirements are proportionate to the risks associated with individual DAs.
- A combination of planning reform, digital systems and culture change can deliver quick results.
- User-friendly tools to identify permissibility and (limited) planning controls for new buildings proves that dwelling approvals can be issued within a relatively short period, with minimal impact on the local area.
- A computer-based interface facilitates clear advice and consistent messaging.
- Online lodgement ensures all necessary documentation is received before the DA is progressed further.
Liverpool City CouncilContact: Shaun Beckley, Project Coordinator – eBusiness and Planning Reform
Liverpool City Council
33 Moore Street, Liverpool, NSW, 2170
Phone: 9821 8805
City of Parramatta Council
Best practice processes
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).
City of Parramatta CouncilContact: Mark Leotta, Manager Development and Traffic Services
City of Parramatta
PO Box 32, Parramatta, NSW, 2124
Phone: 9806 5450