On 28 April 2020 the NSW Government released the first tranche of projects to undergo a fast-tracked assessment process under the new Planning Acceleration Program (Program), along with the specific criteria used to inform the prioritisation of projects under the Program. The Program was first announced on 3 April 2020.
Priority Projects Criteria
To benefit from an accelerated assessment process under the Program, the project must meet three essential criteria – jobs, timing and public benefit. These criteria will be applied by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (Department) through a triage process, which prioritises those projects that deliver the best short, medium and long-term outcomes.
A project's capacity to create jobs, both during and after construction, is the most important priority project criteria. The expectation is that the project will deliver moderate to high jobs numbers in accordance with the NSW Government's goal of creating 30,000 jobs by the end of September 2020. In particular, for development applications, the focus is on the creation of jobs over the next six months. For planning proposals and Site Compatibility Certificates the focus is on the creation of jobs once the development application is determined.
To ensure a consistent approach, unless the project is State Significant Development (SSD) or State Significant Infrastructure (SSI), job estimates will be undertaken by the Department, based on two models:
- construction jobs – calculated by applying criteria for the translation of construction capital spend into construction jobs (originally developed by Landcom); and
- post-construction jobs – calculated by applying the nature of the end use of the project to its intended size and using agreed ratios of floor space to job estimates.
For SSD and SSI, the assessment will continue to be undertaken by proponents through a quantity surveyor.
In evaluating the capacity of a project to create jobs, consideration will also be given to:
- the total direct and induced number of jobs created;
- the period for which jobs are created (i.e. short or long term); and
- the industries in which those jobs are created and the nature of those jobs.
The timeframe for delivery is critical in determining whether a project will be prioritised under the Program. Prioritisation will consider whether the project will be able to commence construction, or progress to a further assessment/determination, within six months to September 2020.
Factors relevant to a project's timeliness include:
- the project's 'shovel-readiness' (for development applications);
- the capacity of the project to unlock significant construction investment;
- whether funding for the project is secured; and
- whether any constraints (e.g. contamination, or complex issues) would prevent a determination from being made within three months.
Notably, where particular constraints prevent a project from being fast-tracked for assessment, the Department has stated that it will 'continue to work to resolve these matters through collaboration and negotiation, using the powers available under the existing legislation'.
3. Public benefits
Finally, projects will also be assessed on their ability to deliver public benefits. Among other things, the government is particularly interested in projects that:
- are able to deliver a moderate to high number of additional housing, where a significant proportion is built-to-rent, social or affordable or key worker housing;
- provide public spaces, green infrastructure, environmental benefits and quality design; and
- demonstrate strategic merit, in that they give effect to the priorities set by the relevant Commonwealth, state, regional and/or district plans.
For the purposes of assessing the public benefits of a project, the Department will also consider the extent to which the project delivers upon the aims, objectives and outcomes sought under the following:
- State Infrastructure Strategy 2018-2038: Building Momentum;
- Regional Development Framework;
- Future Transport Strategy 2056;
- NSW Budget;
- Regional Plans;
- Local Strategic Planning Statements; and
- Premier's Priorities.
Importantly, to ensure that the selection process for priority projects is equitable and transparent, a probity advisor will be appointed to oversee the assessment process. In addition, an Assessment and Probity Plan will be developed to govern the selection process. The complete Priority Projects Criteria is available here.
4. Fast-tracked assessments
From the initial list of 24 projects to be fast-tracked under the Program, a good proportion are government and/or infrastructure related projects. The most significant projects in the list include the Snowy 2.0 project and the Mt Druitt CBD upgrade, valued at $4.6 billion and $1.49 billion respectively. Together, the 24 projects have the potential to:
- create approximately 9,500 new jobs during and post-construction;
- invest $7.54 billion into the State's economy;
- deliver more than 325,000 square metres of additional public space; and
- provide more than 4,400 new homes, including 1,000 social and affordable homes.
A final decision on the first tranche of projects is due in the next four weeks. A copy of the list can be found here.
Moving forward, projects designated for fast-tracked assessment will be announced in tranches. Although there is no indication of when further projects will be called in under the Program, applicants can expect to have their submissions assessed over the coming months, to keep with the NSW Government's target of creating 30,000 jobs by September 2020.
A copy of the Government's media release is available here.
At this stage it is too early to comment on the likely effectiveness of these measures to stimulate the economy, noting that the Department has made clear that the assessment process is being accelerated, not changed. The usual planning rules and policies will apply. It is yet to be seen whether any changes to current planning pathways will be considered in due course.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.
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