Planning a way out of the COVID-19 crisis

THE penny seems to have dropped for the New South Wales planning minister Rob Stokes that projects need to get through the state’s planning system more quickly if the economy has any chance of getting out of a COVID-19 induced downturn.
Planning a way out of the COVID-19 crisis Planning a way out of the COVID-19 crisis Planning a way out of the COVID-19 crisis Planning a way out of the COVID-19 crisis Planning a way out of the COVID-19 crisis

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Stokes said the COVID-19 crisis presented an opportunity for the state to focus on what it could do during the difficult economic conditions of the crisis.

"We can cut red tape to provide businesses with flexibility, we can override normal processes to keep people in jobs and the economy moving and we can process so many projects and proposals that have been stuck in the system for too long," he said.

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment has approved 142 major projects, creating about 4500 jobs, and injecting $4 billion into the economy, since January.

Hogsback hopes the minister includes coal project approvals in his stated strategy of streamlining the planning system instead of only focusing on more residential building and road infrastructure approvals.   

The NSW Minerals Council is growing increasingly tired with the Independent Planning Commission's treatment of coal mining projects.

It stated unequivocally that the NSW planning system needed urgent reform.

"The planning commission is an unaccountable and part-time panel making decisions on behalf of the NSW government, which contradict existing government policies," the NSWMC said.

"Mining projects are stuck in the planning system for years, creating uncertainty for mining families and local businesses.

"The planning commission wastes time by repeatedly requesting additional information despite years of thorough assessment by the planning department and its recommendation for approval."  

NSWMC said there were ongoing administrative errors such as the recent announcement of the Rix's Creek Continuation project, which was approved and then callously revoked in a few short hours creating uncertainty for 300 workers.

"Even small changes to existing mines require unnecessary extensive paperwork and lengthy waiting times to pass through the planning commission process," it said.

The only way mining companies will be prepared to make the decision to invest millions of dollars in projects is if there is a clear and reasonable path to approval.

Hogsback thinks NSW and its cumbersome planning system has earned it a reputation for being overly tardy and inconsistent when it comes to coal mining approvals.

If we are to emerge stronger from this COVID-19 crisis the NSW government is going to have to give serious thought to how it can improve the planning approvals process and allow solid coal mining projects to be developed in the state.