Mixed Report on NSW Planning Portal

A NSW Auditor-General's Report into the implementation of the NSW planning portal by the Department of Planning and Environment has found it may be completed by 2023, 10 years after it commenced.

Although the department is yet to publish a roadmap of the services it expects to release on the portal across 2022 and 2023, something the Auditor-General wants to see done by the end of 2022.

In late 2019, the government mandated the use of the portal for all development applications. This decision took effect across 2020–21.

The portal will have cost $A146m when it is completed, $A38.5 more than was planned in the initial business case.

The department reported $A334 million of benefits in September 2021 due to the ePlanning program. However, the Auditor-General concluded this calculation is overstated 

Councils across Central NSW are reporting their frustration with the Planning Portal.  The introduction of the portal has required councils to re-engineer aspects of their own business systems and create new ways of integrating council information systems with the state government’s portal

“The Portal was designed to ‘deliver a more efficient and optimised planning system for NSW’ and fast track the DA process, but it has become an extra level of administration to navigate through for both the developer and Council,” said Murray River Council Acting Mayor, Frank Crawley.

“Councils are having to employ extra staff to manage the administration burden when the region is already experiencing a significant shortage of Planners and Building Surveyors.”

“Councils want to get on and assess applications, so that people can get on and build.  It is hard enough with rising costs, skills shortages and supply shortages without the significant frustration this Portal is causing.”

‘’The idea of a one-stop streamlined, online system is welcomed – but the portal has not been implemented in that fashion,” Cr Crawley said.

Council said one of the major issues is that the Portal has limited filtering ability to determine the minimum documentation required depending on the Council area and type of application. This is causing applicants to spend money on documents that Council may not actually need to make a decision. 

Currently, an applicant lodging a simple application for a dwelling located within a residential housing estate is given a wide-ranging list of documents to choose from via the Portal instead of a more clearly defined list of the minimum legal documents that are required as a starting point.

“A simple development is creating unprecedented inefficiencies at a time when Councils have received and are processing an unprecedented number of applications,” Cr Crawley said. 

“There is a lot of repetitive, time-consuming processes and a noticeable lag time between information requests. The download and upload capability in the system needs to be increased; this is not a function of individuals or councils’ internet speed, it is a system issue.” 

‘’We are calling for the Department of Planning and Environment to review the system, listen and implement Council’s suggested improvements to the system and adapt it to significantly increase efficiencies and processing times whilst also providing a user friendly, intuitive and streamlined facility that works for all stakeholders.”

Riverina and Murray Councils have contacted the Digital Analytics and Insights section of Department of Planning & Environment NSW seeking an urgent meeting to highlight issues and frustrations being encountered across regional NSW with the Portal. 

A a DPE spokesperson told the ABC the system was effective.

"The Planning Portal is modernising and improving the process for progressing development applications and complying development certificates, and providing greater transparency," the spokesperson said.

"Since its introduction, we have made improvements based on feedback from users.

The spokesperson said the government had provided $4.8 million in funding to regional councils "to assist them with funding technical adjustments to transition away from the old slow and complicated paper-based system".

"A further $80,000 is being made available to each council to continue to help with their integration and automation," the spokesperson said.

"We have also invested $1 million to establish a squad of planning consultants to help regional councils clear development applications for new homes faster."

According to the Audit report “Implementation was initially hindered by deficiencies in planning and it has taken the department significantly longer and cost significantly more to implement the portal than first anticipated. While the portal's implementation has delivered financial benefits, the department has overestimated their value. As a result, the department cannot yet demonstrate that the portal has achieved overall financial benefits, relative to its costs.”

The full report is available HERE.