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Southern NSW councils warn of failing online planning system amid application delays

Murray and Riverina-based councils say they are experiencing significant workload increases and delays thanks to a state government online planning system that was supposed to more efficiently process development applications.

Council representatives said they had been forced to employ more staff to navigate the New South Wales government’s Planning Portal, and it was failing staff and regional residents.

Delegates from the Riverina and Murray Joint Organization (RAMJO), which represents 11 councils in the region, will on Thursday meet with NSW Planning Minister Anthony Roberts to push for a more effective system.

“The reality is that it has become an extra level of administration to navigate through for both developers and council and it is leading to significantly increased workloads and timelines for everyone involved,” Berrigan Shire Council Mayor and RAMJO chairperson Matt Hannan said.

Matt Hannan says the online system is adding to staff workloads.(ABC Riverina: Verity Gorman)

Councils say problems include having to repeatedly lodge the same information for a planning application, requiring multiple passwords, and failing to duplicate application details onto local council systems.

The Planning Portal problems have hit at a time when local governments have reported huge demand on their local planning departments.

“Development applications in the Berrigan Shire, for instance, have almost doubled, but the complexity of applications for industrial investment has also increased,” Mr Hannan said.

“This system is not only making it almost impossible to support business, it is totally failing our staff.”

Councils have also reported difficulty in meeting statutory timeframes due to the lagging system.

Staff feeling the pressure

Berrigan Shire Council chief executive officer Karina Ewer was scathing of the system and considered the situation “say”.

A wide road in a country town with two old-fashioned hotels.
Finley residents in the Berrigan Shire are among those experiencing planning approval delays. (ABC Riverina: Verity Gorman)

She said local councils were at the coalface of the problem and unfairly facing poor sentiment from their communities.

“They have got staff who don’t want to answer community calls at the moment because they’re taking too much heat from the community about what’s going on.

“It’s been a really difficult roll out and it hasn’t been well managed.”

She also criticized the NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) for failing to listen to the councils’ concerns.

As well as a lack of housing options, she said regional communities were struggling to recruit local town planners, which were in short supply.

A house with a sold sign in the front yard.
Regional councils say it’s hard to attract staff like town planners due to the housing crisis. (ABC News: Liz Pickering)

“We are trying to work with a system that is very broken and it is having some really bad effects for our community and our staff,” Ms Ewer said.

System is effective, government says

But a DPE spokesperson said the system was effective.

“The Planning Portal is modernizing and improving the process for progressing development applications and complying development certificates, and providing greater transparency,” the spokesperson said.

“Since its introduction, we have made improvements based on feedback from users.

The spokesperson said the government had provided $4.8 million in funding to regional councils “to assist them with funding technical adjustments to transition away from the old slow and complicated paper-based system”.

“A further $80,000 is being made available to each council to continue to help with their integration and automation,” the spokesperson said.

“We have also invested $1 million to establish a squad of planning consultants to help regional councils clear development applications for new homes faster.”

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