The O'Farrell government has signalled it will use current powers to deliver radical changes to the planning system, despite fears communities will be denied a say on what is built in their suburbs.
After more than two years of public consultation, Planning Minister Brad Hazzard said the government would continue to reform the system "through existing laws” after a summer of negotiations failed to break an impasse with crossbench MPs, who combined to block the changes late last year.
It is understood a number of key reforms could be achieved under current legislation.
They include a focus on public feedback in the earlier, strategic planning stages rather than when individual projects are proposed, infrastructure plans and so-called “ePlanning” – moving the development application process and public consultation online.
A planning expert also says expanding the current regime for “exempt and complying development” - projects that meet certain criteria and so do not require planning approval - would allow more types of projects to be fast-tracked.
This could replicate elements of the government's controversial proposed “code assessment” system, which would force councils to approve developments in high-growth areas that meet agreed requirements, such as building heights, within 25 days, with no community appeal rights.
The overhaul of the state's planning laws – touted as the biggest reform in 30 years - has been in limbo since last November after Labor, the Greens and the Shooters and Fishers Party voted together to make major amendments.
They included scrapping code assessment and quashing a policy that made the economic benefit of large mining projects the main consideration in the approval process.
Department officials and business and community groups have been in talks with crossbench MPs over the bill for the past three months, but have failed to break the stalemate.
Labor MP Luke Foley on Thursday questioned why, after three months of consultation, “the Planning Minister is unable to tell anyone what he is going to do with the legislation, accusing Mr Hazzard of an "eerie silence" on the issue.
Mr Hazzard later accused Labor of opposing the reforms to win “a handful of Green votes”, saying the party “walked away from NSW families desperate for housing, infrastructure and jobs”.
He said the government would "look after the people of NSW by continuing to reform the current planning processes through existing laws".
It is understood he will continue to push the beleaguered bill, despite opposing sides appearing unwilling to concede ground.
This month, Premier Barry O'Farrell signalled the government could deliver the reforms using existing legislation – a move heavily criticised by the Nature Conservation Council of NSW.
University of Sydney's Head of Urban and Regional Planning and Policy Peter Phibbs said the government had substantial powers under existing planning laws and a “careful tuning” would enable significant changes without reintroducing the bill to Parliament.
The government last month expanded the types of developments deemed “exempt and complying”, which allows for fast-tracked approval of smaller projects.
Professor Phibbs said even larger developments could also be approved in this way, so “the proponent doesn't have to go through an assessment process, [the plan] doesn't go on exhibition, there is no public comment”.
Business groups, including the Committee for Sydney, have also made direct approached to MPs to lobby for the reforms.
The committee's chief executive Tim Williams said: “We are strong supporters of community engagement but also of a more efficient development applications process. We believe that the majority of Sydneysiders want planning reform but a noisy minority is preventing [it].”