Development Application (DA) Backlog Reduction Program 2022

Contributing factors Council's response Strategies Report on progress How you can assist

What factors have contributed to this backlog?

  • An unprecedented level of application activity over the last 12 - 24 months, linked to property market growth, construction, migration to this region, low interest rates and Government financial incentives.
  • A highly competitive job market, with many experienced local government professionals, particularly town planners and engineers, being attracted to the private sector.
  • Major workforce disruptions resulting from COVID border closures and the February/March 2022 flood events.
  • Extreme administrative burden over the past 2 years through the introduction of new major policy changes and the new State Planning Portal electronic lodgement system causing double up on data entry.
  • Council staff have been called upon to provide technical input and assessment for major State Government projects such as the Tweed Valley Hospital and public school developments with no allocation of fees and limited developer contributions.
  • Resistance of the NSW State Government to enable councils to apply real value fees and charges for development applications, contributions and compliance functions.
  • A large surge in Land and Environment Court appeals, taking staff resources and legal costs away from general assessment duties.

How has Council responded to these challenges?

Council recently undertook a detailed consultation with the local development industry, Council staff and Councillors which informed a report to Council’s meeting of 2 June 2022, where it was resolved to support a series of strategies to urgently address a backlog of over 450 undetermined DAs. 

Planning Committee Meeting 2 June 2022 report and resolution

As part of the resolution, Council acknowledged that there was a shared responsibility among the key stakeholders to work together in a concerted effort on various actions over the next 6 to 12 months to achieve a more manageable number of DAs in our system.

What will Council’s strategies involve?

The main objective of the Program is to reduce the amount of applications already in the system, whilst still advancing incoming applications in reasonable timeframes.

In order to achieve this, our DA assessment officers will need to reduce their current availability for general enquiries on new development proposals and also communications with applicants prior to accepting lodgements in the State Planning Portal.

Council considers that the following strategies will be critical to the Program:

Prioritisation/finalisation of current and new DAs

  • A working group of senior Council staff across the main development divisions will meet regularly to review existing DAs, unblock any outstanding internal referrals and make critical decisions on whether existing DAs be advanced with:
    • one further Request for Information,
    • or with conditions,
    • or just refused if multiple Request for Information (RFI’s) have already been issued.
  • For all new DAs, only one RFI will be issued by Council and one response accepted from applicants prior to determination.
  • For DAs and modifications with cost estimates $2.5M to $10M, Councillors will be notified to see whether they wish to call up these applications for determination at a Council Meeting, or they be determined under the delegated authority of the Council officers.

    These decisions do not affect those DAs that are already outside of the officers’ delegated authority:
    • proposals with either cost estimates in excess of $10M,
    • residential subdivisions greater than 50 lots,
    • or variations to LEP development standards greater than 10%.
  • Some prioritisation of applications will be given to those residents and businesses affected by the 2022 flood events, where practical.

Change of focus to the checking of lodgements through the State Planning Portal

There will need to be a shift in resources from the current checking of applications lodged in the State Planning Portal to a focus of producing RFIs and DA assessment and determination in a more expedient fashion.

Technical Officers will still diligently review any new DAs submitted via the NSW Planning Portal against the current State statutory minimum requirements, and reject those clearly deficient applications. However, the onus will now be placed on applicants and their planning consultants to ensure that their application lodgements provide all relevant plan and technical reports identified in both the State Planning Portal and Council checklists.

Smaller residential developments

Council has noticed an increase in applications that are seeking approval for a second dwelling on the property identified as a “studio” or “home office” or the like.

All applications need to clearly define the proposed land uses based on the Tweed LEP definitions. If a structure is capable of being used or adapted to be capable of being occupied as a separate residence, applications need to clearly apply for a dwelling, attached dual occupancy, detached dual occupancy or secondary dwelling.

Council will not accept a second residence identified as some kind of studio when it is best defined as a second dwelling.

Officer contact

Direct officer contact will be retained, but reduced through:

  • Referring applicants to the NSW Planning Portal as the most accurate and up to date source of information rather than contacting DA assessment officers.
  • Restricted contact with DA assessment officers via phone and email. It may take up to 5 business days for a response.
  • Ensuring applicants have only one point of contact, not multiple people contacting staff, management and Councillors.

Changes to pre lodgement procedures

Development Assessment Panel (DAP) meetings will be altered as follows:

  • Meetings to be retained but fewer meetings until the end of 2022, then reviewed.
  • Meetings proposed to be held 1 day per week with 1 appointment (currently 2 days per week with one appointment on each day) and that these appointments be allocated for the most complex proposals.
  • All other enquiries can be via the duty officer, in consultation with senior staff if needed. It should be noted that the same level of service of DAP cannot be provided for these enquiries.
  • Increased fees for DAP meetings have been included in Council’s 2022/23 budget.

Tweed Councillors

Councillors have resolved to assist the efficiency of the application systems by continuing to consider the most appropriate actions with regards to Land and Environment Court appeals and to negotiate outcomes where possible.

Councillors are generally only called upon for input on legal matters when they are reported to a Council Meeting.

Report on the progress of first 6 months of strategy implementation

A report on the first six months of implementation of the strategies (June to December 2022) was submitted to the 15 December 2022 Council Meeting (item 16.2). View the report and minutes of this item

How to assist in reducing the DA backlog?

Provide complete applications 
which thoroughly address all policy controls and lodgement requirements

Avoid unnecessary contact with staff 
and lobbying of multiple levels of management and Councillors.