Kiama Council is hoping to be accepted into a new State Government grant program designed as a carrot to improve development application (DA) processing times.
If accepted as a participant in the NSW Public Spaces Legacy Program, there is the opportunity to obtain a $3 million grant for the implementation of public spaces – in return for, amongst other things, reducing the net DA processing times by 20 per cent by the end of June 2021.
“We’ve identified some options for what that money could be used for and put a proposal together for how we can reduce the timeframes for DAs,” says Council’s Director Environmental Services, Jessica Rippon.
The General Manager’s Delivery Program and Operational Plan Quarterly Report to June shows that only 17 per cent of DAs were processed within 40 days in the period to June, far below
Council’s target of 50 per cent and the Premier’s target of 90 per cent.
The average net processing time for the financial year was 87 days.
Ms Rippon says the figures aren’t as bad as they look.
“There has been a concerted effort over the last two years to reduce of ‘aged’ DAs.
“We currently have 28 DAs that have been in the system for 100-200 days.
“When we get them through it skews the figures.”
In addition, she cites complexity, requests for variations, restrictions on staff delegation, staff numbers and more recently the effects of COVID-19 as reasons for the delays.
“Instead of the decrease that was expected with COVID-19, there was a significant increase in the number of DAs that came in while staff were trying to settle into a new way of doing things.”
Ms Rippon says the challenge of improving the application process is one that has already begun.
“I started six months ago and am currently going through a review of how we do business.
“I’ve spoken to a number of consultants and my staff to get an understanding of where improvements can be made in the process.
“My key focus is around the customer experience, making sure that we are communicating appropriately, giving updates and working through how we are managing the DA process, so we are making sure the customer has a positive experience.
“It might not be a yes answer, but it will be one where they will understand the process and where they are up to.”
The existing pre-lodgement consultations system may also be expanded.
Ms Rippon says she knows the community won’t be happy with a ‘tick and flick’ assessment.
“We know they want good quality planning outcomes.
“We want to improve our assessment timeframes, but not at the detriment of our community.”
With it common for around 120 DAs to be in assessment at the one time, the process improvement is looking at which areas are taking the most time and where single point blockages are.
Apart from guiding this project, on the planning side of her role Ms Rippon is also working on a number of strategic planning initiatives, including the development of the Kiama Town Centre DCP, the Heritage Review, and looking at ways to make the Kiama DCP more effective, with less need for variation