The local government lobby is concerned some councils are about to lose planning rights.

The NSW Government is making Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels (IHAPs) mandatory for all councils in Sydney and Wollongong from March 1.

The government says removing planning decisions from councils will help guard against corruption and lead to better local planning decisions.

It claims that IHAPs will bring expertise, transparency and integrity to the assessment of development applications at the local level.

Local Government NSW President Linda Scott has urged Planning Minister Anthony Roberts to rethink the plans.

The local government sector says IHAPs erode the community’s democratic right to help determine what happens in their neighbourhood.

“IHAPs have the potential to actually reduce the accountability and transparency of planning decisions,” Cr Scott said.

“Councillors are elected by and accountable to the community, while panels are not.

“And to make matters worse, ratepayers will have to foot the bill for this new layer of bureaucracy being introduced from next month for Sydney and Wollongong.

“The legislation requires councils to bear the full cost of these panels – about $100,000 each, according to estimates by the Department of Planning and Environment.

“This means less funding for local parks, childcare centres and libraries in local communities.

“Councils will be keeping close track of the costs and will take the Government up on its commitment to recover net costs from the beneficiaries of development.”

Less than 3 per cent of development applications (DAs) are currently referred to a council meeting for determination, with 97 per cent being approved by professional planning staff under delegation.

LGNSW argues that councils and communities should not have an additional layer of bureaucracy imposed on them.

“Democratically-elected councils should be able to determine whether the panel option is the right choice for their area and whether there are real benefits to the community,” Cr Scott said.

“Ratepayers should be able to have confidence that they have a voice at the table via their elected representatives.

“A one-size-fits-all approach will never work in the many and varied neighbourhoods that make up Sydney and Wollongong. 

“I’d urge the Planning Minister to rethink this move, and work in partnership with the local government sector to develop a better local planning system.”