Changes to the EP&A Act were passed in November last year and the first of these changes come into effect as of the 1 March 2018. A guide to the updated Environmental Planning and Assessment Act can be found here.

The existing Act has been modified extensively in the past and is somewhat complex to navigate, as related parts are often in very different locations. To improve navigation and ease of use, the Act has been amended to use decimal numbering for all provisions, and to group like issues. One repercussion, for example, is that the application previously called a ‘Section 96’ to modify a development consent will now be referred to as a ‘Section 4.55.’ Similarly, what was previously referred to as a ‘Section 149’ certificate (commonly found in Contracts of Sale) are now called ‘Section 10.7.’ A guide to the new terms have been listed here and Council’s forms and documents should already be updated to reflect these changes.

A more substantive change that will affect residential planning submissions in NSW is the introduction of mandatory independent assessment of Development Applications in Councils across Greater Sydney and Wollongong. The aim is to remove politics and increase the transparency of decisions. To be independently assessed, certain criteria need to be triggered, following this a proposal would be considered by a Local Planning Panel (previously Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels.) These panels are made up of a pool of industry experts which rotate monthly. All work valued over $5 million will be required to be assessed at panel level, although other triggers also exist.

In addition to the above, consents can no longer be modified to approve existing unauthorised works and modifications must take into account reasons for the original consent (and not be dissimilar). Certificates, such as a Construction Certificate, can be deemed invalid if not consistent with the original development consent. This is intended to address a loophole in which certifiers could be disciplined for incorrect assessments, but the community affected could take no action to rectify the built outcome.

Finally, having successfully completed the harmonisation of Local environmental plans (LEPS), the government is moving to make development control plans (DCPS) more consistent. This has the effect of making the planning system quicker and easier to navigate.  This is expected to be completed by 2020.