News that DA assessment times have halved are grossly exaggerated

News that DA assessment times have halved are grossly exaggerated
Olivia RoundMarch 3, 2020


Some say that patience is a virtue, but a lot must be said about “hustling while you wait” and more aptly, that “time is money”. Indeed, time remains one of the most significant parameters of business. It is arguably a more important factor in project delivery, construction, finance, and management, than even the quantum of profit, or administration, or procurement practices. And we have totally lost sight of this all-significant factor in the NSW Planning System today.

We heard through the official channels as late as last week that assessment times for Development Applications (DAs) have reduced by 50%, following the introduction of the new online lodgement system. This ostensibly appears to be a greater victory than that of Alexander the Great over Darius III in 331 BC.  But for those of us who are currently toiling away, shackled and enslaved with the labyrinthine NSW Planning System, we cannot see or feel in a single Development Application that this may be remotely true. But we have stopped complaining because what we thought was slow ten years ago, is now considered “lightning fast”. 

News that DA assessment times have halved are grossly exaggerated

One still wonders if the current information on halving DA times is truth or aspiration when it is so unrepresentative of the overwhelming experience of the NSW property industry. The pervasive pattern thus far has been to introduce more rules and regulations that are designed to help us do better and go faster. Except we do worse and go slower. And though we have been conditioned to heed the touted fears of an “unregulated” world, having a DA for a complying project take 24 months and a rezoning stretch to 5 years, cannot be in anyone’s best interest – unless I am mistaken.

That has to be, by anyone’s standard, “snail’s pace”. Now when you consider that the average garden snail, crawls along at around 0.05 km/h, and assuming it travels for 16 hours per day, the snail could within 24 months, travel around 584 km. That is the equivalent of crawling from the Sydney Opera House, to Parliament House in Canberra, and back before the average building DA is approved.

News that DA assessment times have halved are grossly exaggerated

While so wanting to go faster, is undoubtedly everyone’s aspiration, including state and local government, in scrutinising the lived-experience and reflecting upon the stark reality that in NSW Planning today, this is more a “piped dream” that a “deliverable”  in today’s commercial world. And this has always been a problem confined to the development industry – until you have to lodge a simple DA for your pergola or driveway, and begin to experience the expense and entanglement of your simple application travelling at “snail’s pace” through the NSW Planning System.

And nobody wins. The council or the state uses up a lot of time and resource to get to the same result, and the consumer suffers financially crippling delays that render applicants so anguished, they almost abandon their applications after years of trying and tens of thousands of dollars of real expense. 

So I can’t see how allowing one’s application to go online has already halved the approval times of DAs. It sounds difficult to believe if you understand the complexity of the preparation of a DA and its pathway to assessment. But after 21 years of being immersed in this ocean of complexity - I am ready to try anything: voodoo; a monastic experience; even e-planning.

Perhaps it is better to go back to basics. The sagacious Justice Sutherland once reminded applicants:

“Salus Populi Suprema Lex Est” - that “the welfare of the people is the supreme law”. 

And I say that the “welfare of the people” today needs to be better than what we have now: the “snail’s pace” that is the NSW Approval Process. Here’s to hoping.

Olivia Round

Olivia Round is the Features Editor of Olivia specialises in news reporting, in-depth editorial content and video + podcast interviews with industry experts.

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