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Labor councils turn on Sartor as ugly fight develops over local planning - 26 March 2006

PLANNING Minister Frank Sartor's bid to seize statewide planning powers to override local councils has been hit by an avalanche of protest, especially from leading local government figures in the Labor Party reports Alex Mitchell State political editor in the SMH March 26, 2006

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore will address a protest meeting outside NSW Parliament in Macquarie Street on Tuesday as MPs resume debate on the controversial planning legislation.

The protest has been called by the Local Government Association of NSW and the state's Shires Association to implore upper house MPs to block the bill and force the Iemma Government to withdraw it.

Mr Sartor faces a further obstacle at the Labor caucus meeting on Tuesday morning when backbench MPs will express their concern at the damaging electoral impact of the bill.

This follows fierce condemnation of the Sartor legislation from Botany mayor Ron Hoenig, who is chairman of the ALP's local government committee, Blacktown mayor Leo Kelly and Tony Hay, who is the president of the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils representing 18 councils in the city's west.

In a move to deflect criticism, Mr Sartor has seized on a Property Council of Australia survey showing widespread public support for reform of local government planning.

"In light of these findings, my proposed reforms are very modest - and to oppose the bill before Parliament would be self-serving in the extreme," he said. "The Local Government and Shires associations and [their] hangers-on might keep barking, but the people have spoken."

In a direct appeal to wavering MPs in the Legislative Council, Mr Sartor said: "I urge the upper house and councils to embrace these limited reforms - or risk further erosion of public confidence in local planning decisions."

A critical vote on the Environmental Planning and Assessment Bill is expected on Tuesday night, with enormous pressure being applied to Christian Democrat MPs Fred Nile and Gordon Moyes, Unity MP Peter Wong and Outdoor Recreation MP Jon Jenkins to support the Government.

The wild card is expected to be David Oldfield, the One Nation co-founder, who has not declared which way he will vote.

The major shot fired over the Government's bows comes from Labor-controlled Blacktown Council, which unanimously voted to called on Premier Morris Iemma and Mr Sartor to withdraw the legislation.

Backed by Mr Kelly, a veteran Labor powerbroker, the resolution said: "This council registers its strongest possible objection to the legislation as issues of local concern should remain the decision-making responsibility of the elected representatives of the local community, being local councillors."

On the Liberal side, Willoughby mayor Pat Reilly, president of Northern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, said: "The legislation strips councils of their long-held role in working with the community to provide sustainable development in an appropriate context.

"It is a step towards doing away with local government and the community of interest will be abolished.

"The current Planning Minister has already demonstrated a willingness to call in sites all over Sydney under the basis that they are state significant.

"Communities don't want the potential for more deals between major developers and planning ministers at their expense."