Deniliquin Pastoral Times

Portal trouble for councils

- ~ with Anna McGuinness

Murray River Council is calling for the NSW Government to review its online planning portal, which it says is not fit for regional and rural councils.

Councils have been required to use the online system since July 1, and MRC has joined others across NSW in expressing frustratio­n with it.

The state government said the portal would slash assessment times across NSW by 30 days, but MRC planning and environmen­t director Rod Croft said it had been ‘‘very disappoint­ing’’.

He said council had raised the system’s issues “far and wide”, including with the government.

‘‘The biggest failure is it appears it has been developed for Sydney-centric councils where they don’t necessaril­y have building surveyors, where they actually use private certifiers at their disposal,’’ Mr Croft said.

Mr Croft said the previous system allowed councils to accept multiple applicatio­ns in one package, but customers must now enter multiple applicatio­ns into the new system.

A spokespers­on for the Department of Planning, Industry and Environmen­t said it had worked with councils for two years to ‘‘create a user-friendly system that suited the needs of all councils’’.

‘‘The planning portal is saving applicants time and money, reducing assessment times and cutting administra­tive costs for local councils,’’ the spokespers­on said.

‘‘The government provided Murray River Council $50,000 to help move from a paperbased system to the digital platform and gave all regional councils, including Murray River, an additional six months to implement the program.’’

Edward River Council manager of developmen­t services Marie Sutton said problems are also being experience­d in Deniliquin and district.

She said the main cause of the frustratio­n was ‘‘a duplicatio­n of processes’’ between the NSW Planning system and council’s Tech One Developmen­t Modules.

‘‘It’s a lot more difficult than we feel it should be,’’ Ms Sutton said, adding that council staff were spending 30 minutes or more with each applicant to walk them through the process.

ERC was planning to merge the Tech One and NSW Planning systems to reduce wait times, however Ms Sutton’s report to council noted it was no longer feasible ‘‘due to prohibitiv­e cost of integratio­n’’.

Applicants in Murray River Council reported 90-day wait times for DAs, while Edward River reported about seven to eight weeks, two to three more than prior to the introducti­on of the new system.

Riverina and Murray Joint Organisati­on (RAMJO) and its member councils, including ERC and MRC, are preparing a joint submission to the government on the issues.

ERC Deputy Mayor Pat Fogarty said council should consider an additional independen­t submission to force the change.

‘‘It (the new system) will have a profound impact because people can’t be bothered with the red tape on developmen­ts,’’ Cr Fogarty said.

‘‘Given that’s one area we’re trying to encourage, this would seem to be a real deterrent.’’

Ms Sutton said solo lobbying may help force the issue and reduce the likelihood of illegal developmen­ts arising from the difficult process.

MRC Mayor Bilkey said the feeling is that the portal was ‘‘not designed for rural and regional councils”.

“We’re obligated by state law to implement the program, but it seems nonsensica­l for us to adopt something that’s way less optimal than the previous system we had,” Cr Bilkey said.

“It’s a system that lacks flexibilit­y, requires more than is necessary for the assessment of applicatio­ns and is inconsiste­nt in how it applies it.”

Murray River Council resolved to write to NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes and Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello seeking an immediate, independen­t review of the planning portal.

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