Mayor supports new panel

Camden mayor Lara Symkowiak has thrown her support behind a state government decision to limit council approval powers.

The NSW Minister for Planning Anthony Roberts last week announced Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels would become mandatory for all councils in Sydney and Wollongong.

This means development proposals above a threshold value of $5 million will be placed in the hands of government-appointed experts.

Mr Roberts wrote on Facebook that the legislation would end “the dodgy and dirty backroom deals that have gone on for far too long inside local councils”.

Cr Symkowiak (Liberal) agreed with the government’s decision.

“Both Liberal and Labor MPs voted unanimously for the IHAP Bill,” she said. “I believe the state government has been prompted to make these changes due to a number of very badly performing councils who hold up development applications, don’t want to make decisions for political reasons or have corrupt activity in their development assessment process.

“Camden Council is not one of these councils. Our DA assessment process has a clean record regarding corruption and I’m personally very proud of Camden Council’s track record of fair and timely DA assessment.”

Cr Symkowiak said Camden came in an average five days faster than the state target for assessing DAs with 98 per cent approved under delegation by council staff.

I believe the state government has been prompted to make these changes due to a number of very badly performing councils.

Camden mayor Lara Symkowiak

Cr Symkowiak said the new panel would have no impact on the way councillors spoke with residents about development concerns or how they considered what was best for the region.

“Council will also be able to make its own submission to IHAP, just as it currently can to the Sydney South West Planning Panel,” she said.

She said it was now up to councillors to “focus more intensely on setting and reviewing the rules for which IHAP must assess DAs” against environment and development control plans.

The new panels were not met with support by neighbouring council Wollondilly, with mayor Judith Hannan speaking out against IHAP.