The NSW Government has developed a new program to help support 14 selected councils across the state in Development Application (DA) and Planning Proposal (PP) assessments.
The $4.9 million program will enable councils to allocate additional resources and implement process improvements that will result in reduced assessment timeframes.
Each of the councils has been allocated $350,000 to enable process improvements to be made through a range of activities, such as the appointment of additional professional assessment staff and system improvements.
The Faster Local Assessment Grant Program will help councils to embed long-term changes in their assessment processes that contribute to faster processing times.
This support will result in:
- expediting housing supply through accelerated local DAs and PPs assessments
- empowering councils to improve capacity and outcomes for housing
- gaining a deeper understanding of assessment practices in councils with high volumes of residential development, to enable targeted improvements across all councils.
14 councils were selected based on the following criteria:
- anticipated high volume of housing to be delivered through local DAs, subdivision DAs or PPs
- opportunities to improve assessment timeframes
- had not received previous funding through the previous RSDA program (2021).
The councils eligible for the program are:
- Canada Bay
- Fairfield City
- Inner West
- Penrith City
- Wollondilly Shire
- Port Stephens
Councils are focusing funding in 6 key areas:
- staff resourcing
- process improvements
- IT infrastructure improvements
- training and development
- reporting and analytics
- knowledge/resource improvements
The target set for the FLAG councils is a minimum of 10% reduction in the assessment times for local residential and local subdivision development applications (DAs). While still early in the program, data from the first quarter illustrates some improvement in assessment timeframes with 4 councils achieving a greater than 10% reduction in residential DAs timeframes and 6 councils achieving a greater than 10% reduction in subdivision DAs timeframes.
Across the program in the first quarter, the overall dwelling assessment times of the 14 FLAG councils has improved by 4.6%, compared to an overall state improvement of 1.5%. In this time FLAG councils have increased housing supply by 3746 new dwellings/lots. This consists of 1874 new dwellings and 1872 new subdivided lots.
The first Community of Practice (CoP) session was held in September. Nearly 30 staff from the 14 participating councils came together virtually to share their thoughts, experiences and responses to delivery issues they are facing.
The Faster Local Assessment Grant (FLAG) program is being conducted throughout Financial Year 2022/ 2023. The midpoint review of progress shows that as of 31 December 2022, there has been an overall improvement in development assessment timeframes across the 14 FLAG councils.
During the first half of the program the overall assessment time trends are comparable to the state-wide performance. Dwelling assessment times of the FLAG councils have improved by 5% compared to an overall state improvement of 1.5%. FLAG councils’ subdivision assessment times have weakened, and the overall state subdivision assessment times have also deteriorated at a similar rate.
From 1 July to 31 December 2022, nine councils improved local housing DA timeframes and 10 councils improved subdivision DA assessment timeframes. Five councils were achieving their housing DA assessment timeframe targets and seven achieved their subdivision DA assessment timeframe targets.
During the first half of the program, FLAG councils approved 5,862 new dwellings/lots. This consists of 3,791 new dwellings and 2,071 new subdivided lots. Six planning proposal applications, resulting in 1,130 potential new dwellings, were determined since the commencement of the program. Of these applications, 33% were assessed within the target assessment timeframes as set out in the DPE LEP Making Guidelines. It is anticipated that timeframes will improve during the second half of the program as the council improvement initiatives gain momentum.
The department is continuing to engage with the FLAG councils through one-on-one conversations and the FLAG Community of Practice (CoP). This ongoing consultation is focused on identifying roadblocks in the development assessment process then collaborating to devise solutions and implement actions that can help drive improvement.
As of 30 June 2023 (based on the rolling 3-month median), seven councils met their targets for assessing local residential development applications (DA). Additionally, 4 councils achieved their goal of assessing subdivision DAs within the expected timeframe.
During the final quarter of the program:
- Residential assessment times improved by 22% (median decreased by 18 days) across the 14 FLAG councils.
- Residential assessment times improved by 9.52% (median decreased by 8 days) across all NSW councils.
- Overall subdivision assessment times improved by 30% (median decreased by 52 days) across the 14 FLAG councils.
- Overall subdivision assessment times improved by 16.31% (median decreased by 23 days) across all NSW councils.
- The 14 FLAG councils approved 2,535 new dwellings/lots. This consists of 1,779 new dwellings and 756 new subdivided lots.
Throughout the 12-month program period, the 14 FLAG councils approved 9,719 new dwellings/lots through the approval of local development applications.
Councils have attributed these improvements to the implementation of various process enhancements. Some of the changes include updated templates, workflows and duty planners assessing simple applications in between enquiries. Other councils have made internal realignments of several processes resulting in an administration time reduction. This has also allowed for the upskilling of team members and an increase in team morale overall.
Learning from shared challenges and about good practice was a key objective of the FLAG Program. The Community of Practice forum was created for sharing ideas and most councils found this forum effective. It provided an ideal opportunity for the department to listen to councils and take their feedback on board. Many councils expressed the FLAG Community of Practice gave them confidence knowing that most councils are in a similar position and generally face the same challenges.
The FLAG program allowed the department to develop a greater understanding of councils’ development assessment processes, and we’d like to express our thanks and appreciation to all participating councils. The FLAG program officially concluded on the 30 June 2023, however an extension to 30 November 2023 has been granted to 10 councils to enable completion of process improvements and expenditure of remaining funds. These councils are Canada Bay, Cessnock, Eurobodalla, Fairfield, Inner West, Port Stephens, Shoalhaven, Singleton, Wollondilly, and Woollahra. A further update will be provided after the conclusion of the program’s extension period.