NSW Department of Planning and Environment

Read transcript for the video 'RAF information session' below.


[Adam] Hello everyone, and welcome to this information session on the Rapid Assessment Framework. Today we have Felicity Greenway with us, Executive Director of the State Policy and Strategic Advice branch, who will give us an overview of this policy framework. Felicity, please go ahead.

[Felicity] Thanks Adam, and good afternoon everyone. Well, it's afternoon in my time.

I'm joining you today. I'm on Wangal Country in Sydney's inner west. Before I get started into this information session, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we all variously are and meet. And I'd also like to pay my respect to Aboriginal Elders, past, present and emerging, and any Aboriginal people tuning in to this information session on the Rapid Assessment Framework.

So today, I'm going to step through and give you an overview of the Rapid Assessment Framework, the purpose of the reforms and the benefits. I'm going to describe the operational impacts of what the key changes are, as part of the framework. And I'll also explain what your role might be, in the framework and how you can help to support the changes. I'll also talk about some of the benefits and how we will realise those together.

Before I start into some of the detail of the content of the reform package, I do want to reflect on the key reasons why we are reforming the major projects area.

Firstly, the major projects reforms are part of the Planning Reform Action Plan and is really part of the Premier's productivity agenda in driving efficiencies in the planning system, particularly driving down assessment timeframes for major projects. I'm reflecting also that major projects are a key driver for the New South Wales economy, adding at least $38.6 billion in capital investment value last financial year. So particularly in these strange times that we live in, coming out of the COVID pandemic, major projects and the major project system, having it running efficiently has never been more important.

Another key driver for this reform package has been to respond to feedback from stakeholders and users of the planning system, persistent criticisms that we've had over time about the efficiency of the system and timeliness of major projects.

And lastly, but definitely not least, the package is also in response to other reviews of the planning system, including the Kaldas Review of governance of the planning system.

So, they're the key drivers for these major projects reforms.

In terms of what we think the benefits of the reforms are, at a high level, we really think that it is going to deliver better quality, environmental impact statements and other environmental assessment documentation. It's going to lead to a more efficient system and a more transparent system for all stakeholders. It's going to provide more certainty for applicants and communities. And we're very hopeful that there'll be a higher and better level of engagement by applicants, particularly at those early stages of the projects.

Just looking at what the key changes are, in this reform package, there are several ones which we'll go into further detail, including the introduction of the Registered Environmental Assessment Practitioner scheme, whereby EISs, have to be quality assured by a suitably qualified practitioner before lodging with the department.

We've also introduced industry-specific assessment requirements whereby certain industry types, certain types of development will be eligible for industry-specific assessment requirements. We've developed a series of guidelines as well that really stepped through in a lot of detail, the form and content and processes for major projects. So guidelines for both SSD and SSI. We've also developed a series of three technical guides that cover particular areas of major projects around cumulative impact assessment, social impact assessment and engagement guidelines.

Finally, we've also introduced a new provision into the regulation regarding expiry of assessment requirements after two years.

So, now I'll go through these key reforms in a bit more detail. But before I do get to that, just reflecting on the journey that we've been on, many of the reforms that you see here today, won't be entirely new to you. You may recall that back in 2017, the department was working on the EIA improvement programme. We've really taken that good work and built on it to build the package that we've developed today.

The package was exhibited in late 2020 through to the early part of this year. And on 1 July this year, we actually published the full package of reforms. And though those things are available on our website to download and have a look at right now.

The next big milestone is 1 October this year. And that's when the majority of this package does kick-in. So 1 October this year, is another big milestone for the RAF reform package.

The next big milestone following that, is on 1 July 2022, where the REAP declaration process will kick in. So it has been a long journey and I'd like to emphasise that the feedback that we've received along the way, has really helped to shape the package to what it is now. And so that feedback has really helped and assisted us in refining the package.


So just looking at those key aspects of the reform package in a bit more detail, firstly, starting with the REAP declaration process. As I mentioned, the REAP declarations don't commence until 1 July 2022, but there has been a great deal of interest in this particular aspect of the package. So I thought I'd commenced with that.


So, there is, as you may be aware, existing provisions within the EP&A regulation, which requires that when an EIS is submitted to the department, it has to be accompanied by declaration that it doesn't contain false or misleading information and the like. So what we've done here, is really built on that concept and expanded it to include other criteria. And the driver here is like a quality assurance scheme that we want to drive across the sector and really raise the bar on the quality of environmental assessment documentation.


So the EIS is that will be submitted, must contain a declaration by a registered environmental assessment practitioner that the EIS meets the criteria you see in the yellow box there.
In terms of the benefits of this, we really think that this quality assurance scheme will improve the quality, completeness, transparency and consistency of EIS documentation. And it really supports better informed and appropriate decision-making, which ultimately leads to better outcomes on the ground. The other key benefit of this proposal, is that we think it's going to lead to significant time savings and reducing requests and back and forth requests for additional information through the assessment process.


In terms of key timing and dates for the REAP declaration requirement, this requirement doesn't kick in until 1 July 2022. And even then there is, you can see a six month grace period whereby, if you had a EIS with SEARS that were issued before 1 July 2022, you actually have until 31 December 2022 to submit your EIS. So up until that point, it doesn't have to be accompanied by the REAP declaration. But after that point, it does. That's in recognition that EISs do take a long time to prepare.


So, who is a REAP, a Registered Environmental Assessment Practitioner? REAPs are suitably qualified and experienced environmental assessment practitioners that have been certified by an accredited REAP scheme. Happily, there are actually two organisations who have been accredited, who are now accredited REAP scheme providers, and they include the Planning Institute of Australia and the Certified Environmental Practitioner Scheme. So the REAPs that are part of those schemes must have meet appropriate criteria, including experience, qualifications, skills, practise, and continuing professional development standards. The department and an independent panel has actually closely looked at the REAP organisations and they must have governance arrangements in place, and they're going to be subject to the oversight and review of the department. So the department has an ongoing role monitoring and reviewing the REAP, the REAP schemes.


In terms of a bit of a call to action, what should you do? If you're an applicant you should engage, we strongly encourage you to engage a REAP early in the EIS process. We don't imagine, well, we don't think that the, it will be difficult for, to have a REAP certify at the end of an EIS process. We strongly encourage that the REAP is embedded as early as possible in the preparation of the EIS to streamline that backend process. Applicants should also consider employing a certified REAP to manage or support the preparation of the EIS as early as possible. If you are interested in becoming a REAP, you should approach those organisations, they are taking applications now. And so it is in your interest to apply to those organisations if you are interested in becoming a REAP yourself. And certainly, try and do that well before 1 July 2022, when the provisions do do commence.


Another key component of the package, was the introduction of industry-specific SEARS. Just stepping back for a moment as well as to the rationale around why this particular reform has been pursued, what we found over many years of practise, is that EISs are varied in quality and size. And there's a growing kind of one size fits all approach in the sector, no matter what the type of development is or no matter what the type of major project is. So what we thought would be a better approach, is to really ensure that effort, assessment effort is going into those higher risk projects where effort is required. So we've introduced effectively a streaming of major projects, whereby certain projects are eligible for industry-specific assessment requirements and the criteria to meet those are, if it's wholly permissible, if it's not designated development and has that ability to pollute the environment, and it's not a concept DA. So, if those three criteria are met, of the development is more than likely eligible for industry specific assessment requirements. There's around nine different categories that we've produced standard requirements for already. And they too, are available on our website. They include categories of development like hospitals and schools and warehouse development and build to rent facilities and the like. So, some of the benefits of this approach, is that no scoping report is required. The department is able to issue these assessment requirements in seven days, rather than the 28 days ordinarily required. So big time savings there. The, and so, also simplifying the process overall.


Obviously there are time-saving benefits to this approach as mentioned, saving at least 21 days from the end-to-end assessment timeframes. There's a great deal of transparency and consistency and certainty bought by this approach whereby applicants, community members, and others can see what are the expectations for these development types? What are the things that are going to be required in the EIS? So, you can have a look at those requirements right now on our website. It also, is going to focus the time and effort of not only the department, but other referral agencies in focusing their resources on to applications and the issues that matter in those applications.


If you think you are available, eligible rather for industry specific, these, then have a look on our website and speak to the department's assessment team about if your proposal is eligible for those requirements. You can get a head start right now with some certainty about what your EIS needs to contain.


The other key component of the package includes the introduction of a series of new guidelines. The guidelines set out the form and content requirements for EISs and other assessment documentation. For State Significant Development and State Significant Infrastructure, we go step by step through the major project system and set out the expectations and requirements for the EIS. We've also developed a series of technical guides in terms of undertaking engagement, assessing social impacts and assessing cumulative impacts as well.


In terms of the benefits of these new guidelines, it is going to, through this standardisation, we're going to have better quality, more consistent environmental and technical assessments. It means that also we'll be able to have more meaningful engagement on projects and better quality documentation that's easily accessible to the community.


In terms of the timing of when these guidelines kick in, they actually kick in on 1 October this year. But like the other provisions, there is another grace period in this one. So if there are, if you have an EIS with SEARS issued before 1 October, 2021, then there's an additional six months whereby you can submit your EIS and it doesn't need to be in accordance with those guidelines. You have until 31 March, 2022 to submit your EIS. And after that point, all EISs must have regard to those guidelines.


The SSD and SSI guidelines, it goes step-by-step as I said, through each stage of the major projects process. It sets out the form and content requirements for documentation at each step, even suggesting number of pages and giving templates and suggestions for structures. It also sets out the requirements for other documentation, including submissions reports, amendment reports, and modification reports and the like. It really does support the idea of better quality, clearer and standardised documentation, which ultimately leads to greater efficiencies in the system and greater transparency, so people can access and understand these documents better.


As an example, diving into a bit more detail in the SSD and SSI guidelines, SSI guidelines, we go into structure length, the presentation of material. We even go down to the GIS data specifications and accessibility requirements for EISs. And again as mentioned, we go right down to suggested structures, giving templates, and what are the key kind of areas that EIS needs to cover, including a consolidated project description.


The first of the technical guides that we have developed includes the engagement guidelines, specifically tailored for major projects. This guideline really builds on the principles in the departments, community participation plan. And again, go step-by-step through the process and outlines the department's expectations around carrying out meaningful engagement, proportionate engagement, and emphasising the message that it needs to be as early as possible in the process. Just taking a deeper dive into that engagement guideline, as I said, it goes step by step through, right from the beginning in the planning of engagement, timing of engagement, looking at innovative engagement methods, ensuring that the engagement is proportionate to the scale of the project being considered, ensuring that there's transparency and it's responsive to the communities and stakeholders being dealt with. It also sets out the department statutory requirements for engagement. And so, and the department's role in the assessment process as well. The second technical guide that I like to talk about, is the Social Impact Assessment guideline. As many of you would be aware that EP&A Act requires consideration of social impacts in the assessment process, however, these guidelines on this, hasn't been provided to all development types. There has been guidelines specifically for resource projects back since 2017. However, the concept of Social Impact Assessment guideline has been extended to all major projects now. The guideline seeks to provide clear advice for all state significant projects, and it provides also a scalable and consistent methodology for how to undertake social impact assessments. It really emphasises the need to avoid and minimise negative social impacts, but really acknowledges that there are positive social impacts as well from major projects and seek to maximise those social benefits. The Social Impact Assessment guideline, it really is, does form a standard part of environmental impact assessment overall. Again, as I was saying, it really emphasises that it's not a one size fits all approach. It is a scalable approach to how you undertake social impacts assessments so that the scale of the assessment is actually proportionate and commensurate with the project being proposed. Say for example, if you had a warehouse on employment zone land with no close residential neighbours. You'd imagine that that is a very high level, simple, most likely desktop social impact assessment that is required for that kind of proposal. Whereas if you had an open cut mine proposal, you can imagine that there are a number of other factors to be considered, including health, potential health impacts, social dislocation in the community, and a variety of other factors. So that Social Impact Assessment might be more substantial, so emphasising that it's proportionate to the project being assessed. The third technical guide I'd like to mention, is the Cumulative Impact Assessment guideline. I think it's the first of its kind in Australia. And again, is really seeking to strengthen and standardise the project level cumulative impact assessment for major projects. It provides a consistent methodology for scoping and assessing cumulative impacts. They extend standard environmental impact assessment by additionally considering impacts of anticipated or foreseeable future projects. And I'll go into those in a minute. It's important to note though, that this guideline does apply to project level cumulative impact assessment. The cumulative impact assessments that are undertaken at that strategic scale, they'll continue to be undertaken at the state and regional level at that scale. And indeed there are examples in the appendices of this guideline, of those strategic cumulative impact assessments, but this guideline is specifically for that project level, cumulative impact assessment. The guideline sets out through a series of questions. Step-by-step again, what needs to be assessed, what are the key matters that are going to be assessed? What's the study area of the project and the time period that is being looked at? What are the relevant other projects, for example, major projects, those projects that might be designated development projects that require an EIS under Part 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, projects that also controlled actions, major Greenfield projects and major urban renewal projects. So they're the other relevant projects. It's also important to scope out questions like, what are the uncertainties or limitations on the data and detailing all those sorts of things. Like standard EIA, Cumulative Impact Assessment can be issue specific or combined. So you may have a project whereby you're only considering the cumulative impacts of air quality as a single matter, or it may be that you're looking at the cumulative impacts of combined matters. So it could be that you're looking at air quality and traffic and transport impacts as well. And as mentioned there, I think I've mentioned the relevant other projects that are going to inform that Cumulative Impact Assessment. The other key component of the reform package, is the introduction of a SEARs expiry provision. So, whereby, the secretary's environmental assessment requirements, will automatically expire after two years, unless there's an application made to extend those SEARs. So there is a discretion for the secretary to extend assessment requirements by an additional up to two years. So, two plus two, so up to a total of four years. However, it's important that if you have assessment requirements that you think are close to expiring, you should really approach the department and see what your options are there. So in the table there, you can see, there are a number of key dates this provision has actually kicked in already. So please again, if you do have assessment requirements that you think are close to expiry, please approach the department and we'll discuss options with you. In terms of the benefits and really the rationale behind either the SEARs expiry provision, we were finding over some time that there are a number of what we call zombie proposals in the system. And these sorts of applications and SEARs have been sitting in the system sometimes for five up to 10 or more years. And that provides, and unfortunately, it causes a great deal of uncertainty for communities, but also for proponents as well. So if you plan to lodge an EIS, please try and do that within two years. If you are, do have SEARs that are about to expire, please contact the department and leave enough time for us to consider that extension to the SEARs expiry. So please again, check those SEARs and contact the department to discuss options if they're about to just expire. So just to recap on what I've stepped through, I've gone through the REAP declaration scheme, whereby EISs need to be accompanied by a declaration by a Registered Environmental Assessment Practitioner. That scheme kicks in on 1 July, 2022. However, the organisations, the accredited REAP scheme providers, PIA and CEnvP are taking applications. So please approach those organisations if you're looking for REAP or interested in becoming a REAP yourself. Industry-specific SEARs from 1 October, many projects are going to be eligible for industry specific assessment requirements. Check your proposal, download those assessment requirements. They're available on our website, so you can have some certainty about what your EIS will require. On, in terms of the new guidelines, from 1 October this year, proponents must have regard to those new guidelines in terms of SSD and SSI, and also the technical guidelines as well. And finally, SEARs expiry, just remember, check your SEARs if they're close to expiry, come into the department and we'll discuss options with you, otherwise aim to get your EIS in within that two year period that the SEARs have. So finally, just a final message from me. I guess the success of these reforms will largely depend on how they're embraced by all of us. It is obviously each of us have our different roles in the environmental impact assessment sector. Many of us are proponents, practitioners, regulators, and so forth, but what it is, is a community of practise. And we have a shared responsibility for providing really high quality documentation, and so, the decision makers can make informed decisions and lead to better outcomes on the ground. That's a shared responsibility for all of us. So, really encourage us to embrace these reforms and work together to make them a success. There will be inevitably questions and issues that come up along the way. If you do have any questions, please email us. And the email address is up there and we'll endeavour to come back to you as quickly as we can. Thanks very much for listening in today to the Rapid Assessment Framework reforms, and we look forward to seeing you around the traps very soon.



Page last updated: 10/01/2023