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Get councillors out of planning, watchdog urges

In this SMH December 23, 2005 article, Urban Affairs Reporter Bonnie Malkin looks at the NSW ICAC discussion paper on the conflicts of interest within the planning system.

THE building approval process in NSW is so flawed it is open to abuse at almost every stage, the corruption watchdog has found in a damning paper that calls for the drastic reduction of councillors' involvement in the system.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption has identified nine areas at risk, ranging from conflict of interest among councillors to political donations and the use of consultants.

"NSW development approval processes face a number of specific corruption prevention challenges. These challenges revolve around the common theme of conflicts of interest," the commission says in the discussion paper.

"They include the conflicting roles and responsibilities experienced by councillors and consent authorities in general, the frequent and inevitable personal conflicts of interest experienced by councillors and some council officers and the exposure of council officers to regulatory capture."

The paper follows the commission's investigation this year into a bribery scandal at Strathfield Council.

The paper says almost 20 per cent of complaints received by the commission and 30 per cent of requests for advice about corruption prevention relate to planning. It identifies the conflicting roles of councillors as a serious corruption risk.

"An obvious way to address this issue is to remove or limit the involvement of councillors in the development approval process."

The paper says the risk of corruption could be reduced if independent panels assessed applications instead of councillors. Councillors could still sit on the panels and contest decisions but not control them.

The panels, which would be made up of professional planning experts, would provide written reasons for rulings and reduce the risk of corruption by "providing a formal and transparent process for residents and objectors to present their case".

The paper calls on councils to record how councillors vote on planning matters and to introduce popularly elected mayors to remove the temptation to link negotiations over the post to development decisions.

The Local Government Association of NSW condemned the plan as flawed. The president, Genia McCaffery, who is also Mayor of North Sydney, said independent panels were also open to corruption and not as accountable to the public as councillors.

"Who do these experts and professionals work for? Developers. They have exactly the same conflicts, as their livelihood depends on the development industry," she said. Instead, the existing process should be made more transparent.

However, Cr McCaffery did give her support to recording councillor votes and popular elections for mayors.

The deadline for submissions on the paper is February 28.



- The different roles of councillors.

- Conflicts of interest among councillors and council officers.

- Conflicting roles of council.

- The use of consultants.

- Political donations.


[REDWatch - The ICAC has put out a discussion paper and more information can be found at ]