Rezoning reviews – is the system working?

In October 2012, the NSW Government announced a bold new process to allow developers and landowners to challenge council rezoning decisions. Some fifteen months later, it’s probably useful to examine how the system is going.

Given the confusing and bureaucratic name of ‘pre-gateway reviews’, the 2012 changes allowed applicants to seek to get around a council’s failure to consider – or refusal of – a rezoning request. Until these changes came into place, there was really no structured way for an applicant to be able to do this – they usually just had to live with the council decision.

The Department of Planning and Infrastructure has a register on its website showing pre-gateway applications. In total, there’s been 40 applications, of which 12 have been allowed to proceed further in the rezoning process and two have been refused.

According to the website register, another 18 are before the Department for an initial assessment and three are with the Joint Regional Planning Panel (which conducts an independent review of the rezoning before the Department makes its final decision). A further two applications were withdrawn and another three have been returned by the regional panel to the Department for its final decision.

There’s a wide variety of rezoning proposals covered in the register, including:

–          A proposal to reclassify a portion of a Sydney Harbour park at Cabarita to allow it to be used as a base to remediate contaminants from a bay (opposed by the local council)

–          The redevelopment of the Darrell Lea chocolate factory site at Kogarah in southern Sydney into up to 450 apartments and a business hub (alleged delay in council decision)

–          The redevelopment of the eight hectare former Bonds site at Pendle Hill (where manufacturing ceased in 2009) – alleged delay in council decision

–          A proposed tourism, residential and commercial development called ’Lake Jindabyne Village‘ at Rabbits Corner in the Snowy Mountains (opposed by the local council).

Despite the seemingly controversial basis of the scheme – that is allowing applicants to seek to over-rule council refusals (or non-decisions) –  the process has not attracted a lot of media attention or commentary. Perhaps this is because, as a flip-side for having their rezoning decisions appealed, councils at the same time were pleased they were given additional powers to be able to make the final decision on rezonings they did support.

One exception to this was the pre-gateway proposal for the Bronte RSL site, which has attracted local and metropolitan media attention.

The rezonings proposed vary widely – from small applications for new highway service centres right through to major infill sites (such as the Bonds site mentioned above).

You couldn’t say the process has been slippery quick in all instances – some proposals lodged early last year are still waiting for a decision.

However, it should be acknowledged, that a pre-gateway approval decision doesn’t mean that a final decision has been made on the proposal. It just means that the proposal can now proceed to formal public exhibition and that means community consultation and communication needs to be a vital component of any strategy for these sites.

Furthermore, even if the rezoning is finally approved, of course, a development application to begin construction also needs to be lodged and then assessed.

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