Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council CEO, Rebecca Ryan, today acknowledged that substantial growth in new housing development in Queanbeyan-Palerang over recent years, combined with the challenges of retaining and attracting assessment staff, were contributing to community angst in delays processing Development Applications (DAs).
Rebecca recognised the community's frustration when announcing a raft of measures to address short and long-term issues and reduce delays from unprecedented demand.
"Having now been in the CEO role for close to a month, one of the regular complaints Councillors and I are hearing from the community, are concerns about lengthy delays processing and assessing DAs," she said.
"Together with senior staff, we are working to resolve the issues as quickly as we can to clear the current backlog and to put in place some longer term process improvements."
So far this financial year, QPRC has received more than 670 DAs ranging from simple residential additions such as sheds, pools and pergolas; new and secondary residential dwellings; to large-scale commercial, industrial and multi-residential developments.
The number of DAs has increased 20% over the past two years as the population continues to grow. At the same time Council's Development Assessment team has been operating with only 50% of its full quota of staff.
"We have had significant turnover of staff in the fields of town planning, building surveying and development engineering," she explained.
"Vacancies in these fields have proved difficult to fill all across NSW with many councils currently reporting skills shortages in these areas and delays with DAs.
"As an immediate short-term solution, we are reassigning some existing Council staff to support the assessment team and help process as many of the outstanding applications as we can over the next few weeks. We have also engaged some short-term contractors who are helping with the assessing process.
"We are also actively recruiting to fill vacant planning staff positions. Applications for two Town Planner positions close next week, and by the end of June we are hoping to have applications for our Specialist Town Planner, Building & Development Liaison Officer and two Senior Development Engineer positions.
"These are all great opportunities for suitably qualified applicants to join QPRC."
In addition to being short staffed, various changes to legislation has increased the complexity of many applications, meaning more detailed assessment and longer assessment times.
This issue is not unique to QPRC. The NSW Government has already stepped in to assist in faster turnaround of DAs. This includes the use of the Regional Housing Flying Squad
Program which is a panel of planning consultants engaged to conduct assessments for DAs for regional housing on behalf of councils remotely. Queanbeyan-Palerang is one of 14 councils in NSW invited to apply for NSW Government support to implement measures to reduce DA waiting times.
"I acknowledge the delays is a major cause of frustration, and cost to developers, and I wish to reassure all applicants whose DAs are already lodged that the issue is being given highest priority and we are doing all that we can to address the delays," Ryan said.
"If you are enquiring about a new DA, Council staff will be able to provide you with a useful checklist and link to all the resources you and your builder need.
"All DAs are lodged via the NSW Planning Portal (https://pp.planningportal.nsw.gov.au/) and whilst it looks difficult, it is quite user friendly, as long as you have your plans and other reports available in electronic format to upload.
"We are making a concerted effort to clear as many DAs as we can, and we ask the community's patience over the coming months while we continue to address the problem."
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